LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As Hard Spun led the entire field of the 133d Kentucky Derby around the last turn at Churchill Downs - with Queen Elizabeth II watching, and 156,634 more - the colt's trainer, Larry "Cowboy" Jones, experienced the sensation of a lifetime.
For an instant, the Cowboy thought he was the trainer of a Kentucky Derby winner, as his horse, born on the Main Line, pushed three lengths out in front. "Your heart can't stop any better than mine did," said Jones, who spotted something else from his seat in the grandstand - "one horse moving, with authority."
As for which horse that was, "I had a bad idea," Jones said with a laugh as he stood on Churchill's track just after the race.
Street Sense made history today as the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner to come back the next spring and win the Kentucky Derby, after the colt scorched by Hard Spun for a 21/2-length victory, becoming the first post-time favorite to win since Smarty Jones in 2004.
Getting to the lead right away, setting a pace that suited him perfectly, Hard Spun, owned by Wilmington's Rick Porter, was 53/4 lengths in front of third-place Curlin, who finished a half-length in front of long-shot gelding Imawildandcrazyguy in fourth.
While clearly the best horse on this day, Street Sense got a trip that no horseman would dare dream of trying in the Derby, as jockey Calvin Borel took the horse from 17th to third in just two furlongs, and did it through traffic, somehow getting up the rail past a wall of five horses, pushing up to third with two more furlongs to reel in the front-runner.
He'd also passed others away from the rail, so this won't be remembered like the Breeders' Cup, when Street Sense won by 10 lengths, up the rail the whole way.
Trainer Carl Nafzger is now a two-time winner, 17 years apart. The victory by his 1990 winner, Unbridled, was remembered most for Nafzger describing the race to Unbridled's 92-year-old owner, telling her she'd won the Derby and saying he loved her.
He didn't offer the same sentiment to the owner and breeder of Street Sense, James Tafel.
"Truthfully, he already knows that," Nafzger said yesterday.
"I fell back in my chair," Hard Spun's jockey Mario Pino, said later after he had watched the replay, seeing the trip taken by the winner.
Nobody in the Hard Spun camp or any other barn questioned the worthiness of the winning effort. And nobody was questioning how big a race Hard Spun had run.
"Our horse ran big, he ran huge," said Jones, at his first Derby after a quarter-century in the business. "We're just ecstatic. My horse has a very high cruising speed. Some of them others that were chasing him were already tired before they hit the three-eighths pole. We got beat by a good margin, but we beat the horse in third by a lot farther than we got beat."
A couple of hours before the Derby, Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, were honored for their efforts with Barbaro, who had been euthanized in January. As the Jacksons stood in the winner's circle, last year's Derby showed on all the track's screens and many in the crowd applauded Barbaro's victory again.
Barbaro's jockey, Edgar Prado, on Scat Daddy this time, saw his horse fade to last place in the stretch before finishing 18th.
"He broke great, but after that he never really got in the race," Prado said.
Scat Daddy was one of five horses trained by Todd Pletcher. After the five finished sixth, eighth, ninth, 18th and 20th, the game's winningest trainer is now 0-for-19 in the Derby horses.
"Without seeing a replay, I don't think I could see any major excuses for my horses," Pletcher said.
His best bet to win it is an obvious one: He'll need the best horse. Borel, a Louisiana Cajun who quit school in eighth grade and started out on the sport's bush tracks, knows what that feels like.
Of that moment when he knew he had it, Borel said, "I looked under my arm and seen we was two or three lengths in front, and there was no way [Hard Spun] was going to beat me and I knew then. It's the greatest moment of your life."
The fractions were perfect for Hard Spun, not sizzling, no faster than that scorching workout he had last Monday. They clicked off at 22.96 seconds, :46.26, 1:11.13 and 1:37.04 before Street Sense finished in 2:02.17 over a fast track.
"It was about what we were going to have to do to do it," Jones said of those easy opening fractions. "We would have loved to have been in 48 [seconds]. But my horse was running easy and we were trying to just ease away from them."
It worked like a charm, except for that one horse.
Jones said he expected to be at the Preakness, offering the hope that Street Sense wouldn't run so big away from Churchill Downs. Look for Chelokee, trained by Michael Matz, to also be at the Preakness.
Barbaro's trainer said on Friday that he planned to watch this one from his sofa in Chester County. For the Jacksons, the return here was a reminder of all that had gone on over the past year, but also how their sport moves on.
While the winning connections were still in the winner's circle, Roy and Gretchen Jackson made their way through the crowd around the paddock, stepping over losing tickets, no-longer needed Daily Racing Forms and crunched-up Bud Light cans.
"Where's the museum?" Roy Jackson asked a passerby as they look across the paddock.
"We've gotten lose here so many times," Gretchen Jackson said with a laugh.