May 4th marks the 30th anniversary of the impressive win by Owensboro’s 1985 Kentucky Derby Champion, Spend A Buck. The 3-year-old lead the entire race after taking a commanding lead out of the gate (like he was “shot out of a cannon,” as one reporter commented) and crossed the wire 5 ¾ lengths ahead.
The backstory is unbelievable. Owner Dennis Diaz, who was just getting into the horse racing business, bought Spend A Buck for $12,500 from Rowe Harper (of Irish Hill Farms, near Owensboro), who was getting out of the business and therefore selling his farm and horses at a liquidation sale.
Fast forward two years later and Spend A Buck had a history-making season. In April, Spend A Buck won both the Cherry Hill Mile and Garden State Stakes at Garden State Park in New Jersey. Before the season started, Garden State Park offered a $2-million bonus to any 3-year-old that swept their three biggest races; the Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes, and the Jersey Derby, if they also won the Kentucky Derby. So after winning the Kentucky Derby May 4th, Diaz decided to forego the Triple Crown and instead entered Spend A Buck in the Jersey Derby in an attempt to clench the $2-million bonus. At the Jersey Derby, Spend A Buck won by a neck, earning $2.6-million, the largest single purse in American racing history, a record which stood until Smarty Jones won a similar bonus at the 2004 Kentucky Derby.