Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
“And here comes the Captain!”
Captain Bodgit was on the move. It was the 123rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Fabled Churchill Downs was the site. Some 141,000 patrons had assembled, presumably with bets on the outcome. The May 3, 1997 NBC telecast was live throughout the world.
This year’s Derby will be tomorrow, May 5.
Redlands horseman William Buster, who dabbled in horse racing, wasn’t unlike every other race track participant in 1997. A Kentucky Derby triumph was always in the back of his mind, much in the manner that an actor dreams of Academy Award glory, or a scientist dreams of a Nobel Prize.
Captain Bodgit belonged to Buster – well, partially.
Such a prospect of winning the Derby for the highly profitable area contractor seemed improbable. Not only does it take dedication – translation, big bucks plus incredible connections – to pull it off, but it takes the kind of racing luck to get that kind of thoroughbred ready for the first Saturday in May.
By no means does Buster take a bow for his place in the sport. His interest derived from his father, a far more interested horseman.
He’ll use a variety of phrases – “lucky … fortunate … it’s a crapshoot … you lose more than you win” – to describe his own place in racing.
As for Buster, he wound up as part of the Team Valor International syndicate, owning one of 32 shares in a pair of Kentucky Derby horses. The first of those was Captain Bodgit, a 1994 foal that was offered around to various horsemen like Buster.
Barry Irwin, a renowned horse investor who brought people together for the purpose of winning the big one, had offered a piece to Buster. He took it. Maybe, it was five percent.
Captain Bodgit, under jockey Alex Solis, finished second to Silver Charm. The Captain might’ve won. He’d won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, he scored another win at the prestigious Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (N.Y.).
This was a true blue blood thoroughbred. He’d won five straight at tracks like Pimlico (Md.) and Delaware Park, Gulfstream Park (Fla.) and Aqueduct. By the time Captain Bodgit showed up at Churchill Downs, he’d won 7-of-10 with three third place runs.
He went to post as the 3-to-1 Derby favorite. Captain Bodgit drifted up from far back of the field. Freestone was the early leader. Silver Charm, second choice at 5-to-2, was always near the front of the pack. The Captain, though, had entered the stretch with a full head of steam.
When NBC race-caller Dave Johnson saw The Captain coming with a flash, he fired up a worldwide television audience.
His signature phrase … “and down the stretch they come” had been preceded just moments earlier with this phrase, “and here comes The Captain.”
It seemed like Captain Bodgit had enough firepower to overcome Silver Charm.
Sitting dead in The Captain’s tracks was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s colt, who would not be denied. Silver Charm won by a head.
Or did he?
That famous Churchill Downs home stretch, which had seen plenty of neck-and-neck Derby duels – Affirmed over Alydar in 1978, Swaps over Nashua in 1955, the 1989 classic win by Sunday Silence who nosed out Easy Goer – came down to another thrilling conclusion.
Silver Charm, with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle, was seen drifting to the right. No question that it seemed to slow up The Captain’s hard-charging, stretch-running stride to the finish of that grueling 1 ¼-miles.
There should’ve been an inquiry.
Captain Bodgit had 32 owners in its Team Valor syndicate. Watching the race. It was the 18th straight year the favorite had lost the Derby. The question had to be asked: Was The Captain’s pathway to the finish compromised when Silver Charm drifted?
A side view revealed a questionable outcome. A head-on view, however, revealed no contact.
“An inquiry,” said Buster, who had lost his wife, Benita Marie, remarried and moved to neighboring Yucaipa-based Oak Glen, “cost him the Derby. (Captain Bodgit) was going by (Silver Charm) when that thing happened.”
There was, in fact, no inquiry. Solis did not file an inquiry claim. Stevens said he didn’t feel contact. In reality, The Captain might’ve been drifting in more than Silver Charm was drifting out.
Buster questioned the outcome. From his vantage point, he saw contact between Silver Charm and his colt. Derby history has only recorded one “foul,” which occurred in 1984, but didn’t alter the outcome of the winner’s horse.
Derby history wouldn’t be set in 1997.
In the Preakness two weeks later, Captain Bodgit ran third – trailing Free House (third in the Derby) and the eventual winner, Silver Charm – two heads separated the trio at the Preakness finish at Pimlico.
The Captain, with earnings just over $1 million, never raced again after losing.
Silver Charm, for his part, was left with the difficult 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown. Maybe it was that open-ended question mark at the Derby, that karma, that kept Silver Charm from beating lightly regarded Touch Gold in the third leg.
For Buster, however, he had one Derby hope remaining in 2000.
The Deputy, an Irish foal, went to post as the favorite, having won the Hill Rise Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, running second in the San Felipe – all at Santa Anita. At Churchill Downs on Derby Day, though, The Deputy failed to fire, finishing 14th.
A few years later, Buster seemed much calmer about both outcomes.
“It’s just another horse race,” he said of the Derby. “It has a lot more publicity, a lot more tradition. But it is just a horse race. You go through the same anxieties with any horse race.
“I’ve been through it now twice; the mystique is not as great.”
Said Buster: “At least I can say, ‘been there, done that.’ ”