Strike the Gold tempers Calif. flavor Preakness notes

May 14, 1991|By Marty McGee

They've already run the Preakness 115 times at Pimlico Race Course, so what the heck. The Preakness will be held once again at Old Hilltop -- even though the 116th running is taking on a pronounced California slant.

If Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold weren't in the race, you might think you were at Santa Anita or Hollywood Park. Of the seven likely starters, five made their career debuts at one of those Los Angeles-area tracks. And four of the five have raced so much in California that 29 of their 33 lifetime starts have come there.

A sixth starter, Honor Grades, has never run in California, but his connections are all California. The star-studded Summa Stable of Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky owns him, and Rodney Rash, a former longtime assistant to Charlie Whittingham, trains him.

For years, racing people have argued over whether the best racing in the country is held in New York or California -- although many top trainers familiar with both circuits, such as D. Wayne Lukas, long have maintained that California, on a year-round basis, is clearly No. 1.

Strike the Gold started his career in New York, but at this point he is more a horse of the entire East. Trainer Nick Zito has not been home for months, having been with Strike the Gold from winter to spring in Florida, then Kentucky and now Maryland.

In the Kentucky Derby, the colt upset the Dosage numbers. Saturday, representing the East, he has another set of numbers to overcome.

* Speaking of Gretzky, Rash told Pimlico officials yesterday that he thinks the hockey star will be attending the race.

* Everything went smoothly for the Preakness hopefuls yesterday morning, but the same couldn't be said for every horse.

Drollery, a 3-year-old filly trained by Charlie Hadry, broke down and was destroyed.

Although she was a maiden without much ability, the loss was a significant one for the filly's owner, Locust Hill Farm. Drollery was a royally bred filly, by Damascus out of the mare Laughter, which made her a royally bred half-sister to Private Terms and thus a prime broodmare prospect.

* Zito, on Strike the Gold's stablemate, Thirty Six Red, a 4-year-old who was an also-ran in last year's Kentucky Derby but won a stakes race at Churchill Downs on Derby day this year: "He thinks he won the Kentucky Derby. He missed the Preakness last year, so we thought we'd bring him along. I think he thinks he's running in the Preakness now."

* For a while during the Triple Crown prep season, jockey Pat Day had an opportunity to secure the mount on Strike the Gold. But a conflict arose, and when it came time to choose between Unbridled in the Oaklawn Handicap and Strike the Gold in the Blue Grass Stakes, Day chose Unbridled.

"That was it," said Zito. "I like Pat. I wanted Pat. But we had to get somebody else."

Chris Antley, 2-for-2 on the colt, was the choice.

"Pat had already ridden in, what, 19 Oaklawn Handicaps? I guess he had to ride in it for the 20th time," Zito said.

Preakness memory

Joe De Francis, 36, president of Pimlico and Laurel race courses, has been a racing fan since he was young, when his late father, Frank J. De Francis, was involved in the sport.

"When I was 15 [in 1970], I had a dream the night before the Preakness that Personality would win. It's the only time in my life anything like that has happened. So I bet all my money, all $12 or whatever it was, and he won.

"There were others. Affirmed and Alydar [in 1978], obviously. Tank's Prospect -- now that was a great race when he came flying at the end to win [in 1985, over Chief's Crown]. I had him, so that happened to make it particularly memorable.

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