Phil Aristone was at Churchill Downs on May 3, 1975 when Bombay Duck, the horse his father owned and brother rode, led for the first six furlongs of the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, there were four more furlongs.
Bombay Duck was probably going to get tired under any circumstance, but, getting hit on the side with a beer can thrown from the infield, did not help the situation. The colt began to retreat through the field and eventually finished last.
Two weeks earlier, Derby winner Foolish Pleasure had caught Bombay Duck in the final strides of the Wood Memorial. This was not so close.
"To me, it was pandemonium," Aristone said of the Derby experience. "I was a young kid at the time. It was exciting. It didn't turn out as well as we would have hoped."
Fast-forward more than 38 years to Friday afternoon at Santa Anita. Aristone, an assistant trainer to Benny Perkins with Bombay Duck, will have his first horse in the Breeders' Cup.
Aristone, one of the top trainers at Parx Racing, is running Indian Jones in the Marathon, the first BC race on the card. Post time is 4:45 p.m. Eastern.
It won't be quite the Derby, but Aristone will remember the feeling.
Back in 1975, his father Roland rented a bus and "took 40 of his friends" to Louisville. The late, great Philadelphia Daily News columnist, Larry McMullen, a man who knew his way around the race track, was on that bus.
"I just remember it was hectic," Aristone said.
Bombay Duck was 27-1 in the Derby. Indian Jones is likely to be one of the top three choices in the Marathon, run at a mile and three-quarters.
Aristone has won nearly 1,400 races. He is in the midst of the best four-year run of his career with nearly 400 winners. He generally does not leave town much with his horses.
"It's my first trip to the Breeders' Cup, but it has to be 3,000 miles away," Aristone said. "Penn National's far for me. I'm a home kind of a guy. I don't like traveling around. The owner is a blue-collar guy. He claimed the horse. We said if he ran good in the Greenwood Cup ... "
Indian Jones ran great in the Sept. 2 Greenwood Cup at Parx. He lost by a nose over a mile and half. And he lost to Eldaafer, the horse that won the first BC Marathon back in 2010.
"It was against a quality horse," Aristone said. "It wasn't against some bum."
To make this even more of a Parx story, Indian Jones will be ridden by Parx regular Angel Castillo and is a son of Parx legend Smarty Jones. His mother is a half-sister to a Delaware Handicap winner. So, Indian Jones has some pedigree.
"When you start stretching out over a mile and an eighth, the pool gets a lot smaller," Aristone said.
And none of the horses in this Marathon is in any better form than Indian Jones.
"We always thought that he would run all day, but there is a limited number of races going more than a mile and an eighth around here," Aristone said. "We always wanted to try him at that distance (in the Greenwood Cup). When he ran such a good race to a very good horse, we decided maybe we'd take a shot at the Marathon at Santa Anita. Then, when the Breeders' Cup contenders came out and they had him ranked second or third, the owner started getting a little pumped up about it."
There is some precedent for a horse coming off the Parx backstretch to win the Marathon. Trainer Butch Reid did it two years ago when Afleet Again won the Marathon at Churchill Downs.
Now, it's Indian Jones going back to Santa Anita, where he began his career in early 2010.
Aristone got the horse in early 2011 after he had run six times at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. He ran him 22 times with varying degrees of success. Then, he was claimed off him for $25,000 back in April.
Aristone felt certain the horse had finally turned a corner so he wanted to claim him back. The original owners were not interested as they had other members of the family. But one of Aristone's other owners was. They did not take the horse for $40,000 in May, but claimed him right back for the $25,000 in June.
Since then, Indian Jones has run the best four races of his life. And he has a real chance to get the biggest win of Aristone's career.
Roland Aristone, who owned horses from the 1950s through the 1990s and passed away four years ago, would be very proud. So would Phil's brother Menotti, the former jockey who just died last February. If he were alive, McMullen might not be at Santa Anita, but he would be betting.
Roland, who raced under the stable name Indian Mills Stock Farm, is a member of the Parx Racing Hall of Fame. Won't be long until Phil gets elected too.
The trainer still lives on the farm in Indian Mills, N.J. He got into racing through Menotti, learned the training ropes from New Jersey icon Perkins and has carved out a very solid training career.
He is not going to California just to go.
"If he wasn't training well, we weren't going to go 3,000 miles to get dusted," Aristone said. "When you stretch out (this far), you limit the pool of horses ... This is the kind of horse that I think will run all day. He sort of proved that to us in the Greenwood Cup."
And if Indian Jones wins?
"It is a milestone you would like to attain, but I'm going to be honest with you, I get as much thrill out of winning a $5,000 claiming race here as I do a stake race," Aristone said. "I'm a very competitive guy and I just enjoy that. So, to me, a win is a win, but obviously it would be a major accomplishment."
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