Robby Albarado walked briskly through the Churchill Downs paddock, away from the track that broke his heart Saturday. He held hands with his two sons, Kaden and Kash. The yellow silks he wore in the final race of the day were spattered with mud.
His battered face told the sad story. The jockey's blackened eyes and swollen nose were gifts of Smoke'n Al, an utterly forgettable animal who altered the course of Kentucky Derby history. Wednesday afternoon, Albarado slipped off the 3-year-old colt, which was making its first career start, in the post parade before the third race at Churchill. Smoke'n Al stepped on the jockey's face, breaking his nose and necessitating stitches. The injury kept Albarado off his mounts Thursday. He also took off Friday, Kentucky Oaks day, as a precaution to be ready for the Derby, when he was scheduled to ride Animal Kingdom. But when Albarado took Friday off, Animal Kingdom owner Barry Irwin and trainer Graham Motion feared he wouldn't be 100 percent on Saturday and made the decision to take Albarado off the colt in the Derby. Irwin and Motion gave the keys to the "Kingdom" to John Velazquez. He just became available that morning when Uncle Mo, his scheduled Derby mount, was scratched for health reasons. It seemed like a trade down for Velazquez, since Uncle Mo was the 9-2 second choice in the morning line and Animal Kingdom was a 20-1 long shot.