Will Preakness bow to Queen? Derby favorite Arazi may skip Pimlico for British race

April 25, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

One week from today, Arazi should be the odds-on favorite in the 118th Kentucky Derby.

If he does win, that can only mean trouble for the Preakness.

The May 16 race at Pimlico might be the big loser in a game of trans-Atlantic tug-of-war between Arazi's two owners -- one an American self-made multi-millionaire, the other a member of the ruling family of oil-rich Dubai.

If Allen Paulson of Savannah, Ga., has his way, Arazi would run in the Preakness if he wins the Kentucky Derby. If Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum wins out, Arazi apparently would snub the second jewel of America's Triple Crown and run in the English Derby at Epsom on June 3.

"If the horse wins the Kentucky Derby, my preference is to run him in the Preakness," Mr. Paulson said yesterday. "But I have to be very democratic about it and consider the wishes of my partner."

Word out of Europe is that the Queen of England already has invited Paulson and the Sheik to share the Royal Box at Epsom, should Arazi decide to bypass the Preakness.

How can Joe De Francis, 37-year-old president of Pimlico, top that?

A crab-cake lunch with William Donald Schaefer hardly compares.

How do you impress a sheik?

"Obviously, there aren't financial inducements, such as bonuses paying for traveling expenses, that could persuade these men to sendtheir horse to the Preakness," Mr. De Francis said.

Mr. Paulson and Sheik Mohammed have spent billions of dollars investing in thoroughbred horses and farms in this country and in Europe. Sheik Mohammed and his three brothers -- Maktoum al Maktoum, who also might have his own horse, Thyer, in the Derby; Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum; and Sheik Ahmed al Maktoum -- are the largest thoroughbred owners in the world.

In their effort to sway Sheik Mohammed, officials at Pimlico have decided to take the diplomatic route. Mr. De Francis has invited President Bush to the Preakness, but it looks like Vice President Dan Quayle could be his stand-in.

Mr. Bush, committed to the commencement address at Southern Methodist University, had to beg off. Mr. De Francis is waiting to hear from Mr. Quayle.

The last time a vice president attended the Preakness was 1957, when Richard Nixon gave the Woodlawn Vase to Bold Ruler's owner.

"We are doing everything we can to arrange for the vice president to be here," Mr. De Francis said. "We have contacted Mr. Paulson and offered to do anything that would make coming here fun and easy."

Mr. Paulson and Sheik Mohammed have agreed that if they disagree on Arazi's destination after the Derby, the horse's trainer, Francois Boutin, will make the decision, "which is a terrible spot for him to be in," Mr. Paulson said.

"It creates a lot of pressure. People have already told us that we shouldn't even run in the Kentucky Derby with a short-priced favorite if we don't intend to run in the Triple Crown. They say we would be a spoil sport, and in a way, they are right.

"No decision will be made where he runs until after the Kentucky Derby," Mr. Paulson said. "But, I think we'll be able to work it out."

No winner of the Kentucky Derby has ever won the English Derby, considered the granddaddy of all derbies. The feat could surpass the stature of winning the Triple Crown.

"A factor in the decision could be they want to do something with the horse that has never been done before," said Timothy Capps, vice president and director of racing at Pimlico. "[If] they went to Epsom, we'd just have to grit our teeth and wish them the best of luck."

Sheik Mohammed has never won the English Derby. Arazi is scheduled to stand at stud at one of his farms, Dalham Hall Stud, in Newmarket, England, when he is retired.

The situation is reminiscent of the Spend A Buck episode in 1985, when little-known owner Dennis Diaz skipped the Preakness with his Kentucky Derby winner and was lured away with a $1 million bonus to run in the Jersey Derby.

In that case, money was the issue. After Spend A Buck skipped the Preakness, officials of the three Triple Crown races -- the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes -- put together a $5 million bonus for the Triple Crown winner. No horse has won all three races since Affirmed in 1978.

This time, all the bonus money in the world won't make any difference if Sheik Mohammed has his heart set on the English Derby.

Edward P. Seigenfeld, executive director of Triple Crown Productions, the administrative body of the Triple Crown races, said "everyone is guessing, but no one knows for sure where Arazi will run.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that everyone in American racing wants him to run here," Mr. Seigenfeld said. "We have a major sponsor [Chrysler Corp.] and a major TV network [ABC] involved and it means a lot to American racing."

Mr. Paulson said he had dinner last week with Lee Iacocca, outgoing CEO of Chrysler, "and he said he'd feel awkward handing me a check for $5 million [the bonus for winning the Triple Crown] since we're friends. Of course, he wants us to run because of all the publicity it will generate."

Mr. De Francis and Mr. Capps said they will be at Churchill Downs next week. "We will visit the various entourages and pay our respects," Mr. Capps said.

There is little else they can do except take the low-key, high-road approach, Capps said.

And keep their fingers crossed.

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