Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 25 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 25 Days to Go!!

Go For Gin, the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner in the United States, got his start at Pillar Stud where the bay was foaled. Bred by Pamela DuPont Darmstadt, the son of Cormorant was out of the Stage Door Johnny mare, Never Knock. As a weanling, the foal was sent to the Keeneland November Mixed Sale, where he was picked out by bloodstock agent John Finney for Anne and Richard Poulson of Hare Forest Farm in Virginia, paying $32,000 for the youngster. The Poulson’s then entered Go For Gin into the Saratoga Select Yearling Sale in August the following year, where he was purchased for $150,000 for the connections of 1991 Kentucky Derby winner, Strike The Gold, William Conden and Joseph Cornacchia.  

Sent to their trainer Nick Zito for his preparations, Go For Gin made his first start at Belmont on September 13, finishing 5th. His next start was an improvement, contesting another maiden special weight on October 3, he placed second. Then on October 21st, the bay juvenile earned his first win, breaking his maiden at Aqueduct. Taking a liking to the Aqueduct surface, Go For Gin would then reel off back-to-back stakes wins, with victories in the Chief’s Crown and Remsen Stakes to wrap up his 2YO endeavor.  

At 3, Go For Gin started his campaign in Florida, winning the January 22nd 8 1/2-furlong Preview Stakes at Gulfstream Park, his last victory prior to the Kentucky Derby. He finished 2nd in the Fountain of Youth and then 4th in the Florida Derby. Shipping to New York to contest the Wood Memorial, the colt again placed second.  

The 120th Kentucky Derby was contested over a track labeled sloppy, the first since Citation took the Roses in 1948. Go For Gin was the 5th choice in the field of 14, with the eventual Horse of the Year Holy Bull taking the majority of the money.  Unfortunately for Holy Bull’s connections, the grey colt under jockey Mike Smith would never find good footing over the slop, coming in 12th and becoming the 15th consecutive beaten favorite. Go For Gin and jockey Chris McCarron found the footing to be just fine after veering out at the start. As they reached the quarter pole, the duo moved quickly into second, tracking Ulises, then passing that competitor coming out of the first turn. McCarron took Go For Gin to the rail as they headed into the backstretch, leading by ½ length at the half mile post. The tandem coasted to a four length lead going into the stretch, and while Strodes Creek and Blumin Affair tried to mount bids to catch the runaway leader, Go For Gin was never threatened, passing under the wire in front by 2 lengths in a time of 2:03.72. The victory was the second for all of the connections, with the owners and Zito winning in 1991, and McCarron with Alysheba in 1987.  

The Derby victory was the last for the mud-loving colt, although he finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont behind the D. Wayne Lukas trained Tobasco Cat. After the Triple Crown, Go For Gin came in third in the Forego Handicap and 4th in the Woodward. Wrapping up the year with two 8th place finishes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic, the colt received several months’ rest before returning to the races as a 4YO, when he placed second in two allowance races, and taking 3rd in the Churchill Downs Handicap.  

While training, Go For Gin happened to tear his tendon in a workout that led to his retirement. In 1996, he started his stud career at Claiborne Farm, who owned 20% in the horse. In 2004, Joseph Cornacchia bought out Conden’s and Claiborne’s shares in the stallion, entering into a partnership with William Boniface. The stallion was then shipped to Maryland, where he stood until 2011 at the Boniface’s Bonita Farm. He sired 218 winners, with 12 of them winning stakes races, including the popular Albert The Great who won over $3 million. In 2011, when the stallion was pensioned, he was sent to the Kentucky Horse Park, where he currently resides, joining 3 other Kentucky Derby winners to have made the Horse Park their home; Bold Forbes (1991-2000), Alysheba (2008-2009), and Funny Cide (2008-present).  

(Photo personal collection)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum