Preakness sand trap sifted all but Hansel

May 20, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Eight horses started in the Preakness, but only one of them ran.

That one horse, of course, was Hansel. All the winning jockey Jerry Bailey had to do was hang on and guide him down the middle of the track at Pimlico.

Hansel looked like he was on a skateboard, and the others had forgotten to oil their wheels.

From a Monday-morning quarterback's point of view, the pre-race strategy and posturing by the trainers and press proved a waste of time.

Hansel was the only animal on that particular day to pick up the bit. The others looked like they were floundering in a sandbox, which is not a bad analogy to describe the track on Preakness Day.

This is not to imply that Pimlico's track superintendent John Passero is negligent in any way. He does an incredible job. No one is more passionate and caring about track surfaces than Passero. He consults a weather expert hourly to decide how and when to work the track.

But when a rainstorm blew in Friday afternoon, it was an act of God that changed the surface and set it up differently for Saturday's card, no matter how hard Passero and his crew worked.

That however is not the point. All the horses had to race over the same strip. It is part of the Pimlico challenge.

The point is that the track on Preakness Day was not the same surface that Farma Way ran over a week earlier in the Pimlico Special when he equaled an American record for 1 3/16 miles.

Also it was not the same strip the Preakness horses worked over all week.

Olympio is a beautiful mover. On Saturday, he looked like he was pulling his feet out of molasses. In fact, he lost a shoe during the race.

Other trainers used the track as a convenient excuse. Ian Jory said Best Pal couldn't handle the going. But from the looks of the horse on Preakness Day, he couldn't handle anything. He ran in four bandages and just looked dull. He had run his best race in the Kentucky Derby, and "bounced" (threw in a bad race) in the Preakness.

Which brings us down to Strike the Gold, the soundly beaten favorite.

Nick Zito did just about everything he could do to help this horse win the Preakness. He even slept with him on the van ride from Churchill Downs. Zito never made a mistake. Except perhaps one.

He hired Chris Antley to ride the horse.

How ironic that Strike the Gold could have a perfect trip in a 16-horse field in the Derby, then have a horrible trip in an eight-horse field in the Preakness.

Instead of letting the horse settle early, take back and go to the outside, Antley went to the rail, which was the worst part of the track on Saturday, and kept him there the whole way.

When Hansel pulled away in the stretch, he ran in the middle of the racetrack, not the rail.

But poor old Strike the Gold, ears pinned back, was nailed to the inside and sulked.

He runs his best races making big sweeping moves on the outside of horses like he did when he won the Blue Grass Stakes and Kentucky Derby.

So why did Antley change his running style in the Preakness? To save ground and not get left by the speed. But in the process, he took the run out of his horse. After the race, Antley predicted Strike the Gold will win the Belmont.

What he meant by that remark is that he will take the horse to the outside and try to blow by the field next time. If he's allowed to do it. Now, everybody knows this horse's hole card. Clever Chris McCarron kept him boxed in with Honor Grades in the Preakness. The New York jocks will pull the same kind of maneuver in the Belmont, if they get the chance.

Only four of the eight horses in the Preakness field are Belmont-bound. They are Strike the Gold, Mane Minister and Corporate Report. Hansel's status is yet undetermined, but he is a likely starter. His trainer, Frank Brothers, is shipping him to Chicago and will make the same kind of late decision for the Belmont that he did for the Preakness.

Waiting in New York are the filly Lite Light, fourth-place Derby finisher Green Alligator, and other horses like Quintana, Lost Mountain, Scan, Paulrus and Subordinated Debt.

As many as 12 or more horses could end up in the Belmont field.

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