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May 01, 2009

Former Winning Jockey likes 'Desert Party' in the Derby


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jean Cruguet, who rode Seattle Slew to thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown in 1977, is at the Kentucky Derby this week, serving as a celebrity handicapper for Churchill Downs official hospitality program, Derby Experiences (

A savvy handicapper who has a small horse farm at his home, Cruguet is part of a new initiative called Derby Legends (, a marketing partnership among he and prominent former fellow jockeys Steve Cauthen, Pat Day, Laffit Pincay and Ron Turcotte. Derby Legends offers speaking engagements, endorsements and other opportunities around those renowned horse racing personalities. QuintEvents, Churchill Downs Official Hospitality Provider, engaged Cruguet's services through Derby Legends.

Thursday morning on the backside at Churchill Downs, Cruguet provided these late insights into the race, which locked in its post positions Wednesday.

"At this point, I like Desert Party to win the race. My Exacta pick is Desert Party with I Want Revenge, who is now the Morning Line favorite. I'm losing interest in Pioneerof The Nile, despite the winning record.

The way I Want Revenge won the Wood Memorial despite trouble throughout was very impressive. With a confident rider in the young and talented Joe Talamo, this horse deserves to be the early favorite.

Desert Party should have won his last race in Dubai. He was much the best horse and has. He is proven in the U.S. as a juvenile and overseas this year. Look for the 2009 Derby Party to be held in his honor.

The other horse to watch is Friesan Fire, a grandson of the great Seattle Slew. Obviously, I like the breeding. Training up to the Derby off a seven week layoff may concern some but not me. He looks like a hot horse and could be on fire Derby Day."

In 1976, with Cruguet aboard, Seattle Slew won the Champagne Stakes and earned the industry's two year-old champion award, before going on to achieve racing immortality. In the three year-old campaign, they won the Flamingo Stakes and the Wood Memorial Stakes en route to Louisville and emerged as a superstar duo with the 1977 Derby victory over Run Dusty Run. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes triumphs followed, giving the French-born Cruguet his place in history. Cruguet now resides in Versailles, KY, 64 miles from Louisville.

"The Kentucky Derby may be the top event in all of sports and entertainment," said Cruguet, whose final ride in The Derby came in 1984, when Play Fellow finished fourth behind Swale. "It's special to be involved in an official capacity with Churchill Downs and Derby Experiences."

He will be joined in the celebrity handicapper role by media personality Tom Leach of Lexington, KY, the radio and television voice of the University of Kentucky Wildcats football and basketball teams, who is also a thoroughbred horse racing expert. Leach worked with Churchill Downs and QuintEvents on the program in its debut last year, when Paul Pompa, Jr, the part owner of Big Brown, was one of the "Derby Experiences" guests.

"Derby Experiences has two major attributes," said Brian Learst of QuintEvents. "Elements that you can't get anywhere else, like Millionaire's row and interacting with Jean Cruguet, plus guaranteed, high-quality delivery, which you would expect from an iconic brand like Churchill Downs."

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