"He started picking off horses on his own midway down the backstretch," Antley said, "and when I showed him the whip, he went after them."
Circling the leaders on the far turn, Strike The Gold swung to the outside at the top of the stretch and took the lead from the fast-fading pacesetter Sea Cadet with about one-sixteenth of a mile to go.
The chestnut son of the great Alydar held off the challenge of Best Pal and Mane Minister down the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths in the modest time of 2 minutes, 3 seconds on a fast track.
Strike The Gold was third in the betting, at 9-2, and paid $11.60, $6.20 and $5.40.
Best Pal, the 5-1 fourth choice who was trying to become the first gelding to win the Derby in 61 years, was second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Mane Minister, an 80-1 shot who paid $25.60 to show. Best Pal, a California-bred colt who wasn't even nominated to the Derby until a month ago, paid $6.20 and $5.40.
Hansel, the 5-2 favorite, finished a sluggish 10th and became the 12th consecutive post-time favorite to lose here.
Fly So Free, the 2-year-old champion, the Las Vegas future book favorite, and the third choice here at 3-1, was fifth, 1 3/4 lengths in back of fourth- place Green Alligator. Green Alligator, who was the best of five mutuel- field horses, went off at 16-1.
The victory for Strike The Gold was the first for a Derby horse that did not fit the controversial Dosage Index, a system of grading a horse's pedigree for stamina and speed. According to the system, Strike The Gold did not receive the required stamina from his sire, Alydar, for this 1 1/4-mile test, even though Alydar finished second to Affirmed in the 1978 Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Strike The Gold's trainer, Nick Zito, who was ninth here with Thirty Six Red last year, had criticized the dosage theory all week as being foolish voodoo and predicted the victory.
He brought the Kentucky-bred colt into the race fresh from a stunning upset victory over Fly So Free in the Bluegrass Stakes three weeks ago.
So little was thought of Strike The Gold as a 2-year-old, he was listed as a 100-1 shot in the Las Vegas future book.
"I bet a couple of dollars on that in January," a smiling Zito said after his first Derby victory.
With the victory, Strike The Gold earned 10 points toward the $1 million Triple Crown bonus, which goes to the horse that finishes highest in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The Preakness is next, at Pimlico on May 18.
Yesterday's victory was worth $655,800 to owners Giles Brophy, William Condren and Joseph Cornacchia, who are friends and golf partners. Cornacchia is the publisher of a popular game called Pictionary and printed the cards for the popular game Trivial Pursuit. Brophy sells cattle and Condren is a real- estate investor.
With a $905,800 purse, the Derby was the richest in history.
A crowd of 135,054, the fifth-largest ever, watched in cloudy 75-degree weather and bet $15.2 million, the second-biggest handle for this race.
About the only surprise in the race was the poor performance of Hansel, the Woodman colt who came here with two flashy victories. Jockey Jerry Bailey said he got away from the No. 6 post in good order and had no traffic problems, ''but down the backstretch I could tell he wasn't right. He wasn't comfortable. He never got going."
Gary Stevens, on Best Pal, said he didn't want to run his horse until the quarter pole.
"I got through inside of Sea Cadet and when I shot through, I thought I was a winner," Stevens said. "In the last 16th, I was hoping Strike The Gold would drift out faster than he'd go forward."
Antley raised his whip in a victory salute when Strike The Gold crossed the finish line.
"I didn't want to put it down," he said. "I wanted to enjoy that feeling." This was Antley's third Derby and first victory.
He said he was cruising easily down the backstretch - he was 12th at the half-mile mark - when Cordero, riding long shot Quintana, asked him how much horse he had left.
"He was talking to me the whole way down the backstretch," Antley said. ''I told him I got a good horse and just wanted to bide my time."
Cordero said he ran into traffic trouble with Quintana or they might have finished third. They finished sixth.
Others, in order, were Paulrus, seventh; pacesetting Sea Cadet, the tailless colt from California and a 15-1 choice, eighth; Corporate Report; Hansel; Happy Jazz Band; Lost Mountain; Another Review; Alydavid; Wilder Than Ever, and in last place, Forty Something.
Pat Day, the winningest jockey ever at Churchill Downs, rode his ninth Derby without a win, this time aboard Corporate Report, a long shot who was bet down to 8-1, mostly because the crowd thought Day was due to win one.
Sea Cadet, as expected, took the lead early and held it until the turn for home. His split times were moderate - 23 1/5 seconds for the first quarter, 46 2/5 at a half-mile, 1:11 1/5, and 1:37 2/5.
"It was a pretty uneventful trip," Sea Cadet's jockey, Chris McCarron, said. "The distance took its toll on him late in the race."
Jose Santos, aboard Fly So Free, said he had perfect position and a perfect trip and offered no excuses.
"I was laying fourth," Santos said. "He had no excuses. He probably didn't want to go that far. He was right there turning for home, head and head with the leader, but he just came up empty."