Trainer Joe Sharp was very hoarse — and overcome with emotion.
His horse, Girvin, had just won the $1 million Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on Saturday, sending Sharp and the Brad Grady organization, which has been together three years, to the Kentucky Derby for the first time.
“We just won the Louisiana Derby,” said Sharp, pausing to keep his composure. “I was screaming and at a loss for words. It's emotional because we all started together and it's just fun to have the Louisiana Derby as your trophy for the good years we've had here.
“We've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Louisiana.”
The victory by 1¼ lengths certainly was no surprise. Girvin, who burst on the scene with a two-length victory in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25, was an 8-5 favorite.
Patch, a lightly raced Florida invader was second, with Steve Asmussen-trained Local Hero third, three lengths back.
The victory was worth 100 points to Girvin, vaulting him from in eighth to first place at 150 in the Kentucky Derby standings, although other horses have races next week.
Halfway through the race, Girvin, easily the most imposing colt in the race, was in fifth place. Speedster Hotfoot was setting a fast pace at 47 seconds, and Monaco and Local Hero were in hot pursuit.
As they made the turn, Local Hero took the lead. However, Girvin, under urging from jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., had been coming along on the outside. With one furlong to go, he surged past Local Hero into first place.
“Our horse showed up today,” Hernandez said. “He was the best horse of the pack on paper, and he ran his race. He is so athletic, he always puts us in a great spot. He was in a great spot today, and when I called on him, he ran on home really nicely.”
The win also put Hernandez in an enviable position but with a big decision to make. He also rides McCraken, who was 15th in the Kentucky Derby standings with 25 points as of Saturday. McCraken will run in the Blue Grass Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
“This is the kind of thing we get up at 5 every morning for, to be around these kind of horses,” Hernandez said. “And to ride two of the best horses going into the Kentucky Derby, it's a great situaton to be in. It's a lot of fun.
“We still have the Blue Grass next weekend for McCracken, and we still have to talk it over with all our owners. Me and my agent, Frank Bennici, we have to talk it over and see what to do from here.”
Hernandez also road Girvin in the Risen Star. For now, he and Sharp said they just want to enjoy the moment.
To Sharp, the win was similar to the Risen Star, but another big step for Girvin.
“Obviously, we're confident in our horse,” he said. “In the Kentucky Derby, a lot has to happen for him to win it. But we're happy with today and confident in the horse.”
The Louisiana Derby trophy will go on his mantel, Sharp said. However, it needs some company. Sharp's wife, former jockey Rosie Napravnik, won the Preakness, the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders Cup Juvenile and Distaff races.
“She set the bar pretty high,” Hernandez said.
It was Napravnik who told Sharp that Girvin would win the Risen Star Stakes when she rode him during preps.
Sharp said he will take Girvin to Kentucky on Monday to begin getting ready for the Derby, which is May 6.
To Hernandez, Girvin, who finished second when he was run in a turf race in January to keep sharp, is special.
“He's just a very, very great athlete,” Hernandez said. “He loves his profession. He wants to do it, he wants to be a good horse. That's what makes the difference. He goes out there and he doesn't have any wasted energy. He runs his race, and he's always there for you.”