Andrew Smith’s Wicked Courage raced erratically but was controlled by jockey Cody Jensen, who had 10 screws and a plate surgically placed in his left collarbone 18 days ago, to hold on and win a tight Grade 1, $822,603 Ruidoso Derby on Saturday afternoon.
It was the seventh-straight win for Wicked Courage.
The Ruidoso Derby purse set an all-time record, surpassing the $702,896 purse in the 2011 running. Wicked Courage now has the opportunity to take the two upcoming Grade 1 derbies at Ruidoso Downs: the $1 million (est.) Rainbow Derby and the $2.8 million (est.) All American Derby. The 440-yard Rainbow Derby and the 440-yard All American Derby will each have record purses with the All American Derby having the all-time largest purse in quarter horse racing history. A sweep of the three Grade 1 derbies would pay approximately $2 million to the winner.
“My dream is to win all three (derbies),” said Smith. “But, it’s really not about the money. It’s about the glory of winning these races.”
Wicked Courage and Jensen were all out to win the Ruidoso Derby. Ill Stop The World was a neck back in second and it was another head back to third-place finisher Sugardaddy B. The top-six finishers were separated by two necks, two heads and a nose in a prototypical “cavalry charge” quarter horse finish.
“He was jumping tracks and shadows,” said Jensen. “I was on the lead just trying to hold him together.”
Only 20 days before the Ruidoso Derby, Jensen was in a riding accident at Remington Park and two days later Dr. Brian Levings performed surgery on Jensen’s clavicle that was shattered into five pieces.
“I had a lot of hope that I would get back this quick. I have to give a lot of thanks to Dr. Levings. All I had was hope and a good doctor,” Jensen said.
Jensen was also aboard a good horse, who had proven himself with six straight wins against lesser company. Five of those wins came with Jensen aboard. “I knew he would fit here,” said Jensen.
The winning streak includes wins last year in the Black Gold 350 Futurity and the Black Gold Championship last fall at Will Rogers Down and then the Bob Moore Stakes in April at Remington Park for trainer Luis Villafranco.
Wicked Courage won the first of eight Ruidoso Derby trials while knifing through a 25 miles per hour headwind. Then between the fifth and sixth trials the wind shifted to a 15 miles per hour tail wind. The result was the top-nine qualifiers came out of the last three trials and Wicked Courage was the 10th and final qualifier with his :19.553 time.
Smith had been unsuccessfully trying to qualify one of his horses for a Grade 1 race at Ruidoso Downs since 1985. He had raced countless horses in the trials and never made the finals.
“I just didn’t have good enough horses. When the wind changed I thought ‘Here we go again.’ I was thinking it would be just like last year when we had the 12th-fastest time to the Ruidoso Futurity with this horse,” Smith said.
The wagering fans knew what Wicked Courage had done. He was bet down to 17-10 favoritism on the strength of his winning streak and qualifying for the finals while overcoming a 40 miles per hour wind differential during the trials.
A gelded son of Captain Courage and the Dash For Cash daughter Wicked Pamela, Wicked Courage was a $4,000 bargain as a yearling at the Heritage Place Sale. “I really liked that his second dam is Viking Anne and he didn’t bring that much money because he was by a young stallion.” Viking Anne was a legend at Los Alamitos in Southern California as one of the greatest 870-yard runners of all-time. “There are no leaks in his pedigree,” Smith said.
Ron and Kati Hanna’s runner-up Ill Stop The World was in the fight to the wire. The Fdd Dynasty gelding won his trial by one-and-one-half lengths after taking a SunRay Park allowance race in April for trainer Chris Zamora.
Ill Stop The World has three wins, a second and a third from eight starts.
Sugardaddy B, owned by Jakita Investments LLC, was fourth in his wind-aided Ruidoso Derby trial and the Bigtime Favorite gelding stepped forward with his third-place finish in the Ruidoso Derby for trainer Blane Wood.
Following the top-three horses under the wire were Tayte Me Down, Charvet, Pyro, Kat Quick, A Dream To Remember, First Alibi Snow and Mr Perry Cartel.