In 1975, Bombay Duck had a Derby to remember

Posted: April 30, 2004

When Bombay Duck and his Philadelphia-based entourage headed to the 101st Kentucky Derby in 1975, they did so with excitement and confidence.

But they could not anticipate that they would change Derby history in both official and unofficial ways.

Officially, Bombay Duck raced the fastest three quarters of a mile in the history of the world's biggest horse race.

Unofficially, he became the first entrant ever to be struck by a beer can, prompting officials to limit the access of infield fans to the horses the next year.

Phil Aristone still vividly recalls the events surrounding the race.

Aristone was the 23-year-old assistant trainer to Ben Perkins Sr., who conditioned Bombay Duck for Phil's father, Roland Aristone Sr. And with Phil's older brother, Menotti, as the stable jockey, the Derby was to be a truly family affair.

Bombay Duck, stabled at Liberty Bell Park (now the site of Franklin Mills Mall), was caught in the final stride in the Wood Memorial in his final Derby prep by the projected Derby favorite, Foolish Pleasure, giving the Aristones good reason to be optimistic about their chances in Louisville, Ky.

"My father rented a bus and took 40 friends to the Derby," Phil Aristone said.

But while Bombay Duck was extremely quick, he was equally temperamental, prompting Perkins to put blinkers on the dark colt in an effort to increase his focus and decrease his antics.

"Bombay Duck was always a bad actor in the paddock; he would kick and wheel about and really make a scene," Aristone said. "Benny was concerned that the huge crowd in the paddock at the Derby would totally derail him, so he tried the blinkers. They didn't make him worse, but they sure didn't help."

By the time the gates opened for the 15-horse field, Bombay Duck was ready to explode.

He shot out of the gate, leading after a quarter-mile in 22 seconds, a half-mile in 45 2/5, and three-quarters of a mile in 1 minute, 10 3/5 seconds.

"Going down the backstretch, Menotti saw some kid racing toward the rail, winding up to throw something," Aristone said. "The horse was struck on the hip. We found out later it was a beer can full of water. It left a knot the size of a tennis ball. It wasn't the reason he finished last, but they put up a fence" to limit fan access in the infield the following year.

Foolish Pleasure won the race as the 19-10 favorite under Jacinto Vasquez.

Bombay Duck later defeated the likes of Gallant Bob and Royal Glint and was one of the classiest runners to ever emerge from Philadelphia.

Bombay Duck was ahead of his time in other ways.

"We found out that he had too high an iron count in his blood, so we decided to switch him to bottled water," Aristone said. "When we told the delivery guy how much we needed, he told me that he had delivered bottled water to another racehorse many years ago. It turned out to be Nashua, the sire of Bombay Duck."

Nashua was among the elite thoroughbreds of all time.

Bombay Duck's temper eventually led to his death.

"He always had a field to himself, but one day when he was in his 20s, he tried to jump a fence to attack a horse in the next field," Aristone said. "He got impaled on the fence and we had to [euthanize him] because of the injuries he suffered."

Aristone is a good friend and golfing buddy of trainer John Servis, who will saddle local hope Smarty Jones in tomorrow's 130th Kentucky Derby. "John has to be under a ton of pressure now," Aristone said. "You want to be with the horse 24 hours a day. You want everything to be perfect, but, of course, it just can't be."

Contact staff writer Craig Donnelly

at 215-854-2839 or cdonnelly@phllynews.com.

Colts and Philly's

Four local horses have raced in the Kentucky Derby at long odds and finished up the track.

* 1975: Bombay Duck, at 27-1, set the pace before finishing last of 15 for jockey Menotti Aristone and assistant trainer Phil Aristone.

* 1984: Raja's Shark, at 59-1, finished 14th in a field of 20 for jockey Rick Wilson and trainer Sal Campo Jr.

* 1996: In Contention, at 19-1, finished 15th in a field of 19 for jockey Tony Black and trainer Walter Reese.

* 2001: Talk Is Money, at 47-1, finished 17th and last for jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer John Scanlan.

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