The thought of an off track at today's $700,000 Pimlico Special isn't exactly sending trainers scurrying to scratch their horses.
One man in particular was smiling as the rain and unseasonably cold weather made for a mucky racetrack yesterday, possibly clouding the chances of overwhelming favorite Best Pal. That man was Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, trainer of Ibero, the Argentina-bred horse who is 2-for-2 over a sloppy track.
"I had Leroy [Ross, hot walker for trainer Nick Zito] do a rain dance for me last night and it worked," McAnally said yesterday. "Ibero went super this morning [over a muddy surface].
"This horse likes an off track, like most of the South American horses that I've trained. We have plenty of speed, and I expect to go to the lead."
D. Wayne Lukas' speedy Twilight Agenda, the likely second choice in the betting, has a third in his only start on an off track. Lukas isn't concerned.
"I'd be stunned if he doesn't do well on that kind of a track," Lucas said. "He's fast, small, made like a mudder, looks like a mudder and acts like a mudder."
Of the others, only local runner Valley Crossing and Strike the Gold have competed over a track rated wet.
In two starts, Valley Crossing has a victory and a third, and trainer Richard Small will be more confident if the track is off.
Zito likes the rallying Strike the Gold's chances, noting that "he moves way up on a wet track." The horse won the Blue Grass Stakes last year on a wet track before capturing the Kentucky Derby, his last victory.
Strike the Gold stood in the starting gate yesterday morning in hopes of preventing a repeat of the 1991 Preakness when he broke last, then finished sixth.
But most of the focus has been on Ibero, who went a quarter-mile in 25 seconds with the last furlong in 12.
Ibero led from wire to wire when he won the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 15 at Santa Anita Park and has excellent speed, a quality that was holding reasonably well yesterday.
NOTES: The preliminary attraction today is the $25,000 Maryland Million Special Handicap, which matches horses eligible for the Maryland Million on Sept. 26. Dewey O. Davis' Boxwood will be seeking her fifth straight win against four other fillies and mares, including Over Fly with Kent Desormeaux up. The race is part of a series throughout the year for horses nominated for the Million. . . . Apprentice Otto Thorwarth won his first race in Maryland yesterday aboard Ashokan Moon in the third race. A former stable hand for Frank Brothers, Thorwarth had 15 victories at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. He is 21. . . . Edgar Prado had a double, raising his total for the meet to 45 winners. Larry Reynolds is second with 27.