The scene on the Churchill Downs' track was chaotic Saturday just after the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Amid a monsoon, making for the wettest Derby day on record, jockeys dismounted their losing rides and found trainers to discuss what went wrong in their respective trips.
As Good Magic jockey Jose Ortiz met trainer Chad Brown, the pair tried their best to avoid the circus of people, putting their arms around each other and hunched over, talking downward like a quarterback and receiver pre-snap.
That's when a photographer's phone began to ring to the tune of Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy. How hauntingly appropriate for Brown, Ortiz and the winning ride that inevitably wasn't in this year's run for the roses.
“I thought Jose gave him a great ride, and we had every chance turning for home,” said a surprisingly calm and collected Brown, just after his post-race huddle with Ortiz. “You know, he was just second best today.”
“He gave it everything,” said a distraught Ortiz as he evaded the rain — and reporters — heading down the tunnel to the paddock, “but one horse was better.”
Brown's Good Magic did give it everything, and most respected opinions in the race world would unequivocally call the battle-tested son of Curlin a Kentucky Derby winner on most recent years that weren't 2018, as the product of Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables, LLC finished in second by a nose over Audible.
“This is one of those years — I'm not the only trainer to walk away with a second place finish — that there was a horse that was good enough to win several Derbys, just not this one,” said the 39-year-old Brown, as he gazed toward the turf track where life has undoubtedly dealt a better hand for the trainer that has become somewhat of a guru on the grass.
The two-time Eclipse award winner for Outstanding Trainer in the last two years has had a slew of turf horses come up top-tier in their careers ala Beach Patrol, who finished a gallant second to Yoshida in the Turf Classic just a race before the Derby.
His transition to the dirt has come with a stream of ebbs and flows, but with recent success on the other side, no chance to notch his name in greatness came better than Good Magic's almost glory, settled for broke ride in Race 12.
“We're in this to win these races, but you can't help but to be proud of this horse,” said Brown. “It's tough to lose this race, but our horse had a great ride here, and, you know, it's second best, but I am proud.”
A winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Good Magic was declared by Brown "a tough one to beat" heading into 2018. The colt first tackled the Fountain of Youth, finishing third, then rallied to corral his spot in the Kentucky Derby with a 1:50.18 run in the Blue Grass Stakes.
There's no doubt that Good Magic had his best career run on that waterlogged Churchill Downs track Saturday, as he hung with Justify — both behind Promises Fulfilled at the half mile — through speedy opening fractions of 22.24 and 45.77.
“I was concerned [because] they were going fast and it may take some of the kick out of my horse,” explained Brown of the fast start, “but then as they turned for home, it looked like it was down to two horses and we had a very, very fair shot to tip outside of (Justify) and go get him, but he found more and he was very impressive today.”
The 22.24 quarter mile run is now third-fastest in Derby history, and over the slop no less.
As Justify made his move to the lead on the far turn, Good Magic pushed past a flirting Bolt d'Oro three-lengths wide and turned the stretch run into exactly what Brown saw: a two-horse race.
“The winner did all the work up front and my horse was tending him close to a very past face and still well in second,” Brown noted. “I think those two horses showed that they were the two best horses in the race and mine was second best.”
Brown went further to discuss Justify and his ability to close out Good Magic's threat toward the wire.
“Given the fractions up front, and Justify was doing the heavy lifting, I felt that by the eighth pole this horse would come back to us and that he's not this super horse,” he said, “and he proved to find more and that he is a super horse. He had another gear and found more.”
Brown was on the derailing side of Triple Crown dreams a year ago, when one of his highlights on the dirt came by the name of Cloud Computing, who threw Always Dreaming to the side, taking the wire at last year's Preakness.
“We're not sure just yet,” said Brown on where Good Magic's next race will be, but seeing that Brown "[doesn't] see a mile-and-a-half for this horse," a Belmont Stakes run is unlikely, with potential for Brown to play Triple Crown spoiler again at Pimlico in two weeks.
It'll never come easy in horse racing, and for Brown, the dirt might be muddier than the turf, but the sun is certainly breaking through the clouds, and it won't be if, but when Chad finally finds himself crossing the Churchill Downs turf and into the Kentucky Derby winners circle.
“I'll be back,” Brown said with an optimistic tune.
“I know Good Magic is a tough horse with a lot left in him, and I look forward to what's next,” he soon after mentioned, consuming it all as the reporters around him dwindled and the top-tier trainer readied himself to step away from the track. “It's just one of those years were you run into a great horse and a really deep field.”