Racing had a brand new darling named Genuine Risk.
And for good reason. When the photogenic daughter of Exclusive Native charged down the homestretch of Churchill Downs on May 3, 1980, she not only became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby in 65 years but also raced directly into the hearts and imaginations of millions of fans around the world.
With Genuine Risk unbeaten in her first six lifetime starts, all against fillies, connections made the calculated gamble of pointing their young filly to the Kentucky Derby. Her trainer, LeRoy Jolley, had been down this road before, having come out a winner on the first Saturday in May five years earlier with Foolish Pleasure.
The Wood Memorial became her acid test -- the first race to test her abilities against the boys. She did not run poorly, beaten only 1 ½ lengths in the 11-horse field at Aqueduct, but the third-place finish behind Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran would not make her one of the favorites for the Run for the Roses. It was, however, enough for Jolley and owner Diana Firestone to send Genuine Risk on to Louisville.
Ridden by jockey Jacinto Vasquez, the filly found a comfortable position in mid-pack early in the Derby. From there she moved smoothly to the outside on the backstretch and made her move on the turn. A sharp attack quickly put her in contention, and Genuine Risk took over the lead entering the stretch. The roses were all hers from there as she held off a rallying Rumbo to win by a length with Jaklin Klugman farther back in third.
In the Kentucky Derby, she had been let go at odds of 13-1. Next time, Genuine Risk was the 2-1 favorite in an eight-horse field for the Preakness Stakes. Half of the eight were big longshots, but three others were considered serious threats to the popular filly.
Colonel Moran, who had finished ahead of her in the Wood Memorial, had skipped the Derby and came in off a win in the Withers. Jaklin Klugman was back off his good run at Churchill Downs. And then there was Codex.
A California-based colt trained by an up-and-coming trainer named D. Wayne Lukas, Codex had not been in the Derby after somehow missing out on being nominated. The son of Arts and Letters was inconsistent early on but came into the Preakness on a roll. He had won three in a row, including Grade 1 scores in the Santa Anita Derby and Hollywood Derby.
Running third and fourth down the backstretch, both Codex, ridden by Angel Cordero, Jr., and Genuine Risk made big moves at the lead. The first jump went to the colt, who quickly struck to the front on the turn, but soon after came the filly.
There can be little doubt that the race-riding master, Cordero, knew that the Derby winner was quickly coming up to him as the field approached the stretch. What happened next is both Preakness lore and some level of highway robbery.
Cordero let Codex run extremely wide through the turn, forcing the filly farther and farther outside. Vasquez also claimed that his adversary whipped not only his own mount, but also struck Genuine Risk on the head with his crop.
Codex ran on to a clear victory in excellent time, while the filly persevered but never offered much challenge to the winner after the mugging coming out of the turn.
Had this not been the Preakness, one of America’s most important races, Codex likely would have been disqualified. It seemed clear to almost everyone that Cordero made a calculated move to intimidate the filly. On this day, though, and in this race, Pimlico's stewards saw it differently.
They disallowed a claim of foul by Vasquez, and Codex was the official winner of the second leg of the Triple Crown.
To say that the majority of racing fans were unhappy with the result would be a colossal understatement.
After the huge controversy that was the Preakness, both horses came back three weeks later to contest the Belmont. The filly fired again and ran a strong second behind Temperence Hill. She won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly and remains the only female ever to finish in the money in all three Triple Crown races. As for Codex, he disappointed and ran seventh in what turned out to be the final race of his career.
A full four decades have passed, but the unsatisfying result of racing’s Middle Jewel of 1980 still brings back strong emotions from those who remember the race.
Had the best horse won the Preakness? Possibly, Codex may have been best no matter what. But one thing is for sure -- In this battle of the sexes, Genuine Risk had been robbed of a fair chance.