Jockey Cliff Berry had a feeling it couldn’t be good news when his agent called him early Wednesday morning.
Unfortunately for the Jones resident, his feeling was correct.
Berry was scheduled to ride Win Willy at the 135th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but Win Willy was pulled out of the race by trainer Mac Robertson because of an ankle injury Wednesday morning, just hours before the post positions were announced.
"It’s definitely a disappointment,” Berry said. "But that’s just part of horse racing. I know Mac is doing what is best for the horse, and that’s what’s important.”
It had been a whirlwind ride for Berry with Win Willy the last couple of months. The Remington Park jockey had never ridden the colt until the Rebel Stakes on March 14 at Oaklawn and had only ridden for Robertson a handful of times.
Win Willy’s normal jockey, Israel Ocampo, began riding regularly for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and Berry stepped in.
Entering the Rebel Stakes, it was supposed to be a showcase for early Kentucky Derby favorite Old Fashioned. Win Willy was as far back as 15 lengths before surging down the stretch to win at odds of 56:1.
"That was something I’ll never forget. It just doesn’t happen too often,” Berry said.
Pulling off upsets was nothing new for Berry. He rode Going Ballistic to a surprising victory over Grasshopper in the $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in 2007. That win, Berry said, is the greatest accomplishment of his career.
But anyone involved in horse racing lives for the chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
"It’s the biggest prize in American horse racing,” said Remington Park’s all-time leading trainer Donnie Von Hemel.