About 802 miles west-southwest of where Jimmy Jerkens was headed on a dank Friday morning, there no doubt were mint juleps to be made and fancy hats to be worn and Derby horses about which to argue, which is where Jerkens should have been instead of walking towards the Belmont Park training track.
"I'm working a horse," he said as he walked past the barn and up a flight of wooden steps to the rail, jacket collar turned up against the fine mist and stopwatch in hand. The horse happened to be Subprime, one of several horses Jerkens trains for Edward P. Evans, another, of course, being Quality Road.
Subprime, most recently fourth in the Grade 2 Comely, would go on to breeze six furlongs in 1:15.69 in the mud; Quality Road would once again walk around the shedrow, looking magnificent under tack and leaving one to wonder what might have been.
Monday morning, when the stubborn quarter crack on the colt's right front foot showed no signs of responding to treatment, Jerkens scrapped his final breeze and withdrew Quality Road from the Derby. Shortly after 8 a.m. my cell phone starting ringing, people calling from Churchill Downs wanting to know if it was true, that he could not be running on Saturday.
"That's a shame," said one writer. "He was five lengths better than the rest of the field."
The plan, said Jerkens, is to put a bar shoe on and once he's sound, to resume jogging. The Preakness is out, the Belmont is a long shot, and it's a damn shame because it would have meant so much not just to Jerkens, an amazing horseman, but to his father. "The Chief" never won a Derby, and I remember standing next to him after Sky Beauty ran dead last in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs in 1994.
"I just never have any luck here," said Allen, shaking his head. "Never."