The Decisive MomentMay 13th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: Top Story
Kerwin Clark started riding horses at the age of nine. By eleven, he was playing for purses. Now, at the age of 52, Clark found himself riding in the Kentucky Derby.
“I knew that I wanted to be a jockey before I could ride a race horse,” Clark said.
Clark has lived in Poydras for 15 years. He was married in the rented hall next to Rocky and Carlo’s. He regularly races horses at the New Orleans Fairgrounds and the Louisiana Downs.
Clark spent his childhood in Louisiana, most of it riding horses.
“My mom didn’t like the idea, but my father let me take out some horses,” Clark said. “When I was a kid, I never owned a bicycle. I rode my horse everywhere.”
When Clark did start on the competitive tracks, some of the purses were as low as $50, but he was racing.
“Any kid that’s starting out, if they say they don’t want to go to the Derby, they don’t belong in this business,” Clark said.
“It’s the dream. And as for me…,” Clark took a deep breath, thought back on the nearly forty years of racing. “For me, I really thought I was a done deal. I mean, how many horses come out of the Downs?”
When Clark had taken some rides in the Louisiana Downs, it was merely a means to stay fit for the upcoming Fairgrounds season. It was in the Downs that Clark was saddled with a horse called “Decisive Moment.” It turned out to be the team-up set by fate, one that saw great races and purses.
“After Risen Star, we had a little over $200,000, and were going into Spiral Stakes,” Clark said. “I was told if we did well at the Spiral, we were going to the Derby.”
At Spiral Stakes, Clark and Decisive Moment took second place, finishing behind Animal Kingdom.
“He beat us by two lengths,” Clark said. Though Clark didn’t consider the race a defeat, since it was one of Decisive Moment’s first artificial track runs Clark said.
And that race at Spiral would not be the last time Decisive Moment ran against Animal Kingdom. Both horses were in this year’s Kentucky Derby, where Animal Kingdom and Decisive Moment were both put down as longshots.
However, the 2011 Kentucky Derby was different from the thirty-something years prior. The pace. The pace had been slow for the first few markers. Now, this may not mean a whole lot in actual seconds, but when it comes to the stamina in the horses—horses that were trained to run a specific way, to outlast through their endurance— a slower pace means more horses with more stamina for the final stretch.
I knew in the Derby, we were going slow, and it played out the way I thought.”
At the start, Clark was sure he would come in behind Shackleford, who started out as one of the packs leaders. “And when we got to the turn, he dropped down on me, and we ran steady after that.”
“From that point, I thought the horses that were forwardly placed would finish well,” Clark said. Which is why, for Clark’s money, Animal Kingdom’s longshot, come-from-behind victory was even more impressive.
Now the Derby race has been run, the roses off the track, and Clark is back home in Poydras, preparing for the upcoming races in Opelousas.
“I’m not going to say it’s a let down,” Clark said. “Do I wish I could do that every year? Hell, yeah. To have 165,000 people screaming from the stands,” he said. “It’s been fun, but back to reality. You do your job, make your money, and pay your bills.
“But,” Clark said, “I do it all on horseback.
“I’ve been really blessed. I feel great, I don’t feel 52, and I ride like the rest of them. I’ve got a great wife, great kids, great grandkids, and a really good agent who makes sure I ride the best horses,” Clark said. “It makes the job easy.”
As for the future of Louisiana racing and the upcoming season, Clark is optimistic.
“You never know what’s going to come out of the fairgrounds. That’s what’s so exciting about it all. You don’t know what you are going to get next year.”