Should Day miss this year's Derby, it would /files/storyimages/his string of consecutive Kentucky Derbys at 21 - the longest streak of consecutive rides in the history of the race. He has participated in the famed "Run for the Roses" every year since 1984 and won America's greatest race aboard W.C. Partee's Lil E. Tee in 1992.
Day is suffering from a labral tear in his right hip, a problem that has been the apparent cause of discomfort in the hip he first experienced last July. The labrum is the cartilage that lines the socket in which the hipbone, or femur, sits. That cartilage provides cushion and stability in that joint. The surgery to repair the injury will be performed by Dr. Mark J. Philippon at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail (://www.steadman-hawkins.com).
The surgery and recovery process will keep Day out of competition for several weeks. He hopes that there would be enough progress to allow him to make a return to the saddle by the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Sat., May 7. But the length of his stay on the sidelines will dep/files/storyimages/on the nature of injury.
"The window they gave me was anywhere from four weeks to 12 weeks," Day said. "Obviously if they get in there and discover something of significance, it's going to take longer. We're going to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and believe that it will land somewhere in the middle."
Day, who turned 51 on Oct. 13, said he has every intention to return to riding once he has recovered from the surgery - but a ride in this year's Derby has the look of a long shot.
"I would say that it's a very outside chance," he said. "I've seen stranger things happen, but I'm not going to press it to get back. If the procedure is not real extensive and the recovery is rapid, I wouldn't throw it out the window. But it's certainly not something that I have in my cross hairs.
"I've got every intention of coming back to riding. This isn't a swan song."
Day said he has no idea what caused the problem, but has endured pain and discomfort in the hip for several months.
"It was last July when I first noticed the little catch," said Day. "I didn't see it as being anything serious and I can't pinpoint any specific incident that caused it. I just woke up one morning and it was there, so I was a little nonchalant - and a little negligent probably - in getting it looked at."
Day said the hip was initially examined in October, but an X-ray and MRI revealed no significant problem. But as Day continued to ride through the fall, the discomfort became more serious. A second examination of the hip by Dr. David Caborn, who had performed successful surgery on Day's shoulder a year earlier, resulted in a program of therapy and exercise that seemed to improve the problem, but the progress slowed significantly in February. Day has taken most of this winter off to sp/files/storyimages/time with his daughter, Irene - a senior at Louisville's Christian Academy high school - and suffered significant pain and discomfort in a one-day return to the saddle at Gulfstream Park on Fountain of Youth (GII) Day on March 5.
Another MRI was scheduled - this one involving dye that was injected into the joint - and that test revealed the damage and the need for surgery.
"If I hadn't waited so long, it probably would have been more easily diagnosed in December and it would be behind us right now," said Day. "Now we're going to address that and I fully expect a complete recovery. We'll be back - maybe not as good as new, but pretty close."
Day entered 2005 with 8,332 career victories, third to Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Russell Baze, with the latest coming when he rode Kentucky Derby contender Noble Causeway to victory in a Gulfstream Park allowance race on March 5.
The native of Brush, Colo. was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1991 and earned Eclipse Awards as the nation's top jockey in 1984, '86, '87 and '91. He established a record for career earnings by a North American rider in 2002.
Along with his Kentucky Derby victory, Day has eight other victories in Visa Triple Crown races. He has won the Preakness (GI) five times and the Belmont Stakes (GI) on three occasions. Day is the only jockey to have ridden in all 21 renewals of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. He has won 12 Breeders' Cup races, the second highest total in the history of the event, and leads all riders in career earnings in the event as his mounts have collected $23,033,360 in purses.
Day has scored 2,458 career victories at Churchill Downs and earned a record 34 riding titles at the track. He is also the all-time leading rider at Keeneland.
PAT DAY'S KENTUCKY DERBY RECORD
YEAR HORSE FINISH
1982 Music Leader 15th
1984 Vanlandingham 16th
1985 Irish Fighter 11th
1986 Rampage 4th
1987 Demons Begone Did not finish
1988 Forty Niner 2nd
1989 Easy Goer 2nd
1990 Summer Squall 2nd
1991 Corporate Report 9th
1992 LIL E. TEE 1ST
1993 Wallenda 13th
1994 Tabasco Cat 6th
1995 Timber Country 3rd
1996 Prince of Theives 3rd
1997 Crypto Star 5th
1998 Favorite Trick 8th
1999 Menifee 2nd
2000 High Yield 15th
2001 Dollar Bill 15th
2002 Blue Burner 11th
2003 Ten Most Wanted 9th
2004 Minister Eric 16th