Race of the Week 2017

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Zipse At The Track

The Great Kentucky Derby Mistake: A Moment in Time

The date was May 4, 1957. The Soviet Union was only a few months away from sending a dog into space, and in the world of thoroughbred horse racing, one of the most talked about races in history was about to be run under the famed twin spires. The main players were part of what many still call the finest foal crop out of any in American racing, and they had finally reached the largest two moments in their young lives.

Despite the recent injury of one of the best of the generation, Gen. Duke, the 1957 Kentucky Derby boasted a great field that would include three future members of the Hall of Fame. The race favorite was Bold Ruler. The Wheatley Stable homebred had already accounted for six stakes wins and was coming off a nose victory in the Wood Memorial. On that day, he won a determined battle against an English bred colt that was getting good at the right time and appreciated the added distance; named Gallant Man. Bet just a little more than Gallant Man in the Derby was the romping winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, Round Table.

Somewhat obscured by the shadow cast from the big three was Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege. This was nothing new for the bay son of Bull Lea though, as he was clearly the second stringer of the powerful barn’s contingent. Gen. Duke had won the Florida Derby like a superstar, and when he had to miss the Derby, many considered Calumet’s chances at another Derby to be less than good. Nonetheless, Iron Liege was in the race with rider, Bill Hartack, and let go as the 8-1 fifth choice.

While the two race favorites, as well as, Iron Liege would stay close early to the speedy Louisiana Derby winner, Federal Hill, Gallant Man was held well back off the pace by his young rider, Bill Shoemaker. When the real running began down the long Churchill Downs stretch, it was Iron Liege who proved strongest of those close to the lead and emerged as the leader at the eighth pole. By that time though, Gallant Man was in full flight and gaining fast on the outside. It seemed only a matter of time before the John Nerud trained colt would reel in his competition on the way to Kentucky Derby glory … or maybe not.

As the pair passed the sixteenth pole, something unbelievable occurred. Shoemaker inexplicably stood up in the irons on Gallant Man, misjudging the pole for the finish line. In the matter of a few strides, Gallant Man went from an almost sure winner to a horse that needed to regain his best running. Shoemaker quickly dove back into the saddle and began urging his mount, but Gallant Man couldn't quite catch Iron Liege, who won by a nose. Round Table and Bold Ruler finished lengths farther back in third and fourth.

After the Derby, the three stars would go on to great careers. Bold Ruler won the Preakness two weeks later and was named Horse of the Year of 1957. He also became one of America’s greatest sires, led by his great son, Secretariat. Round Table also enjoyed a remarkable career, winning 43 races, multiple year-end awards, and was named Horse of the Year of 1958. Gallant Man won the Belmont by eight lengths, as well as, countless other big stakes and became the third horse of the outstanding crop to enter racing’s Hall of Fame.

Iron Liege did finish second in the Preakness, but never won another big race, and was once again overshadowed by the big three. But he will always have that last six seconds or so of the most stunning Kentucky Derby stretch run, along with Gallant Man. On that afternoon in Louisville, the two set the racing world abuzz with a bizarre mishap and a fantastic finish that can never be forgotten.



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Older Comments about The Great Kentucky Derby Mistake: A Moment in Time...

Guys, he lost by a nose even after losing momentum. I have little doubt that Gallant Man would have won if not for the misjudge.
I was thinking the same thing as Mike in SB when I watched it. The "misjudgement" was far less pronounced than I thought it was originally.....
I have seen the film of this race a bunch of times and I really don't think Shoe misjudging the finish line cost Gallant Man the race, he never stopped running and never broke stride. I do think I remember Shoe talking about it costing Gallant Man the race but it looks like he just ran out of track to me. By the way I like the outrider in the suit and no helmet.
My father handed me the newspaper and said, "pick the Derby winner." I picked Bold Ruler, he lost - So what else is new? He did win the Preakness and later beat both Gallant Man and Round Table at 10f to be named Horse of the Year! Thanks for the video, it was fun watching him again
thanks for the memory esp the footage but I can see that finish in my mind even without Cryed for Gallant Man long time that day and was always a little leary of whatever the Shoe would be riding ever after right or wrong
Nicely done, Brian. I love the footage. It's kind of ironic how 7 years later Hartack would beat The Shoe by a similar margin on Northern Dancer after Shoemaker chose Hill Rise as his mount over the 'Dancer.
Love the newsreel, too.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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