Notebook > Sports

Day to remember

Sports | Retiring jockey Pat Day may stand only 4-11 and weigh 126 pounds, but he is a giant of a man

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky.-When all-time jockey great Pat Day announced his retirement in the Oaks Room atop Gate 1 at Churchill Downs on Aug. 4, it was almost like a Billy Graham evangelistic service. The winner of a Kentucky Derby-and 8,802 other races-he repeatedly thanked God for his skill and successes and proclaimed his love for the Lord. "If you don't know Jesus, I'd like to introduce Him to you," Mr. Day told the correspondents.

Mr. Day, 51, may stand only 4-foot-11 and weigh 126 pounds, but he is a giant of a man. Articulate and with flawless manners, he showed a clear sense that he knows who he is, yet framed his accomplishments and gifts in humility and gratitude. Four times the assembled correspondents responded in ways this reporter has rarely if ever seen in covering uncounted news conferences-they applauded the man whom others at the news conference called "a role model" and "a fan favorite."

As a youth Mr. Day wrestled and rode bulls. Then he turned to the racetrack. He said he found "a natural seat on a horse, and the horses were responsive." Mr. Day won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in 1992 with Lil E Tee. He rode eight winners in the other two races of the Triple Crown-the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. His mounts earned $297.9 million-enough to make him the all-time jockey earnings leader and fourth-winningest rider.

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Someone asked how he wanted to be remembered. Not for the races he won or the people he affected, Mr. Day said, "but as a man after God's own heart." Near the end of the hour-long news conference, complete with reporters from around the country asking questions by teleconference, Churchill Downs bugler Steve Buttleman began to play "My Old Kentucky Home." Mr. Day had heard that played in his 21 Kentucky Derby showings. This time, however, he lowered his head and his daughter Irene patted him gently on the back. He rubbed his nose, took off his glasses. The tears came.

A reporter asked for a last comment. His eyes moist, he said: "I know I'm doing what God wants. But I love this game. I'm going to miss it a lot."

A day earlier, Louisville Courier-Journal sports columnist Rick Bozich wrote: "I can't remember a time when Day won a race and then failed to thank the trainer, the owner and God. . . . Pat Day has taken us on some ride, and if you've been paying attention you'll understand very little of it was aboard a horse."

-Wesley G. Pippert

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