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. "It’s not just another race.” Von Hemel trained Clever Trevor in the 1989 Kentucky Derby to a 13th-place finish and has had Berry ride his horses for years at Remington. At 46, Berry thought his moment had passed him by. He began as a quarter horse jockey in 1980 before moving to thoroughbreds the following year and has been doing it ever since. Berry is the all-time leading jockey at Remington Park. He has been the leading jockey 12 times at Remington and has been the leading jockey at Lone Star Park in Texas on three occasions and has more than 3,000 career wins. However, he’s never been in a Triple Crown race but is hopeful he’ll get another opportunity. "I’ve been acknowledged, and hopefully I can build on this,” Berry said. "I definitely want another chance at this.” Berry was going to fly into Kentucky on Saturday morning. Though he won’t be there, he said he is still going to watch the race. Robertson said Win Willy was feeling fine and running fine all week. It was a precautionary X-ray that showed the colt has the makings of a fracture in his left front pastern (near the ankle), and Robertson didn’t want to risk the horse’s health. "You can’t take chances,” Robertson said. "Most things start out little, then you look away and they become big problems. I’m not going to let that happen.” It would have been the first Kentucky Derby for Robertson. He said he plans to let Win Willy heal for a couple months and then hopes to have him back racing.
135th Kentucky Derby
→When: 5:04 p.m. Saturday →Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky. →TV: KFOR-4 (Cox 3)