LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Wayne Lukas, who ran two horses in the Kentucky Derby, defended Lil E. Tee's slow time, but the size of the preliminary field for the Preakness indicates that many Triple Crown trainers -- including Lukas -- want to see if the Churchill Downs winner can beat them again.
Winning the 1 1/4 -mile Derby Saturday in 2:04, the slowest time for the race on a fast track since the same time by Cannonade in 1974, Lil E. Tee is not scaring away any opponents for the Preakness, the middle leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico May 16.
A field of 13 or 14 is shaping up, which would be the greatest number of horses to run in Baltimore since Pleasant Colony, the Derby winner, beat 12 others in 1981.
Seven Preakness starters may come from the Derby. Lil E. Tee could be joined by Casual Lies, Dance Floor, Conte Di Savoya and Pine Bluff, who ran second through fifth, respectively, plus Technology, the 10th-place finisher, and Pistols And Roses, who was 16th.
Lukas, who trains Dance Floor, said at Churchill Downs yesterday that he also may run Hickman Creek, unraced since a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby April 4; and Big Sur, who was fourth in the Arkansas Derby April 18.
Other Preakness probables are Alydeed, Speakerphone, Agincourt and Dash for Dotty.
Other times on Derby day were good; earlier on the program, Pat Day, who rode Lil E. Tee, was atop a 6-year-old mare who ran six furlongs in 1:09 2/5, and a 2-year-old gelding covered five furlongs in 58 4/5 seconds.
In the Derby, however, no one ran fast early, which is unusual, and while Lil E. Tee made up about four lengths in the stretch to win by a length, he was struggling to reach the wire. Pat Day hit the colt 15 times and said: "When I put the hammer on him, he kicked in coming to the eighth pole. He really wasn't putting forth all of his effort the last part of the race. I was working on him pretty good just to keep him in the race."
Dance Floor set the pace. The first half-mile was run in 47 4/5 seconds, the slowest time since 1969, and he ran six furlongs in 1:12 1/5, slowest since 1980.
"I wouldn't judge that [Derby] time or this crop [of 3-year-olds] yet," said Lukas, who finished sixth with his other Derby starter, Al Sabin. "This track can change by the hour. I've jogged horses the morning of the Derby and found the surface to be perfect. Then it can come up cuppy by race time. The year we ran Muttering [a fifth-place finisher in 1982], the track was like that."
Casual Lies, third in the Santa Anita Derby and a strong second here, was an indication that the two horses ahead of him in California, A.P. Indy and Bertrando, would have had good shots in the Derby. Bertrando, who was a threat to win the Derby on the front end, considering the way the race was run, ran a temperature shortly after the Santa Anita Derby. A.P. Indy suffered a bruised foot Friday and was declared out of the Derby on Saturday morning.
His recovery this week will determine if he will run in the Preakness.
After a meeting involving the handlers of Arazi yesterday, it was announced that the disappointing favorite, who was eighth at 9-10 odds, would be more likely to run in the French Derby in late June than the English Derby June 3. Either way, Arazi is headed back to France, perhaps never to race in the United States again.
The day after the race, horsemen at Churchill Downs were still talking more about Arazi's flop than Lil E. Tee's victory. The consensus was that his crushing defeat could have been because of a lack of seasoning, or because he is no more than a natural miler who was trying to masquerade as a distance horse.
"It's difficult to measure Arazi's race," said Lynn Whiting, who trains Lil E. Tee. "It was a difficult assignment, trying to run in the Derby off just one [prep] race. And that one race was such an easy mile that he probably didn't get a lot out of it. I'm sure the trainer [Francois Boutin] had the horse ready, but there's no replacement for seasoning and that was a big factor. I was like everybody else, I was expecting to see a legend, and it wasn't there."