It was a pretty good horse race yesterday, and, when you start handing out the credit, don't forget Arazi.
Yeah, that's right, Arazi. Remember him? The best horse since Secretariat? The best thing out of France since nouvelle cuisine? He's back home -- 3,000 miles and an ocean removed from Pimlico, feeding on pate de foie gras or whatever it is horses dine on in old Chantilly -- licking his wounds.
But the reason you can't forget Arazi is that when he faded down the stretch at Churchill Downs two Saturdays ago, he managed to save the Preakness in the process.
Because here's the deal on the wonder horse: He wasn't sticking around. Arazi was never going to show up for the Preakness. Win or lose the Kentucky Derby, he was booking passage on the first boat out of town.
He had already missed April in Paris. You don't think he was going to blow May, do you?
And if Arazi had won and gone home, the Preakness would have been -- how do the French say it? -- in the dumper. It would have been a race of also-rans. It would have been Spend A Buck going to the Jersey Derby, only worse. Arazi was going to be a legend. One win, and Arazi was going to be Man O' War (Homme De Guerre?), the biggest American-born star to hit France since Jerry Lewis.
The Derby was supposed to be Arazi's coronation. And if it had worked out that way, the Preakness might as well have been a fish fry.
Let's just say his absence would have hung over Pimlico like the blanket of fog that just wouldn't go away.
Instead, no one even mentioned Arazi's name.
Instead, when Pine Bluff ran down Alydeed at the wire, you had one horse, suddenly redeemed, taking on the new wonder horse in the kind of finish that the TV boys and the people in the stands love.
With Arazi safely dispatched, you had a wide-open Preakness, but a Preakness that mattered.
Maybe not everyone believed in Lil E. Tee (he went off at 4.2-1, the longest odds for a Derby winner in 25 years), but the beauty of the race was that there were so many horses to take a shot on.
In fact, the people who seemed to know best, for a change, were the bettors who made Pine Bluff, a disappointing fifth in the Derby, the favorite here.
Why was he a favorite?
Maybe it was because Chris McCarron was riding him. Maybe it was because the horse had run so well everywhere except two bad races at Churchill Downs. It couldn't have been because of his name. Pine Bluff, Ark., the horse's namesake, was once rated by Rand McNally as the least livable city in America.
Whatever, no favorite had won a Triple Crown race since the Belmont in 1988. But you wouldn't say he was an overwhelming choice. In fact, the $9 Pine Bluff paid on a $2 bet was the most anyone had won on a Preakness favorite since they put the tote machines here in 1941.
The Preakness was like the presidential race. Candidates kept showing up, with 14 coming out of the gate yesterday. Six horses went off at odds shorter than 10-1.
And, in Pine Bluff, you had a horse that two jockeys had given up on. But, there he was, running a perfect race under McCarron, coming wide at the first turn and then just coming and coming and coming. He passed the one-two finishers at the Derby. He passed Hammer's horse, Dance Floor. And, finally, Pine Bluff passed Alydeed to win by three-quarters of a length.
Before the race, trainer D. Wayne Lukas had said the press was building Alydeed into a "mini-Arazi," the new over-hyped horse. But Lukas, who trained Dance Floor, had to concede that he loved Alydeed.
And Alydeed is for real. We learned that much yesterday. You could see why Craig Perret, who switched from Pine Bluff to Alydeed, jumped horses. He took the loss with some equanimity. In fact, no one seemed that upset after the race, except the Lil E. Tee people. Lil E. Tee bled during his run and, when it came time to make a move, had nothing to move with. As of now, he's in danger of becoming another in a series of discounted Derby champions. He could also be in some danger of missing the Belmont.
Dance Floor ran a good race, finishing fourth, coming out of the 14th position. The real news, though, was that Hammer, who made it here between shows, wore not only a tie, but also a shirt. He was also sited bare-chested, suggesting that he might have lost his shirt betting on Dance Floor.
Casual Lies finished third after taking second at the Derby and is in great position to win the million-dollar Triple Crown bonus.
Pine Bluff is in pretty good position, too. Alydeed is probably going back to Canada. Arazi is waiting to run in some race in France that you'll probably want to attend this summer. And Pine Bluff will be the favorite at the Belmont.
Pine Bluff is from Arkansas, of course. So is Lil E. Tee. Can someone get a quote from Bill Clinton?
"It's great to be an American," Pine Bluff's owner, John Ed Anthony, said after the race.
7+ It's easy to see why he might think so.