In Search of a Hero Sea Hero's Triple Crown quest faces toughest test in Preakness PREAKNESS '93 118TH PREAKNESS

May 15, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Mack Miller, the Hall of Fame trainer of Sea Hero, likes to infuse his speech with folksy cliches.

He'll be "lucky as the dickens" if he wins today's 118th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. The Belmont Stakes could be more his horse's "cup of tea."

Miller raced Sea Hero on Lasix in the Kentucky Derby only "because when you're in Rome, you do what the Romans do."

Of the approximately 40,000 thoroughbred foals born in 1990, only one horse from that crop, Sea Hero, has a chance to become the sport's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed 15 years ago.

If ever racing needed a hero, it is now.

Faced with declines in betting and attendance at many tracks and grappling with unsettling moves toward electronic innovations, the industry could benefit from a Triple Crown winner grabbing the public's attention.

No Derby winner has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since Sunday Silence's stirring victory over Easy Goer four years ago.

Since then, Derby winners in the Preakness have finished second in 1990 (Unbridled), sixth in 1991 (Strike the Gold) and fifth in 1992 (Lil E. Tee).

Can Sea Hero reverse the trend?

"It's a question mark," Miller said, adding that the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, because of his horse's laid-back running style and preference for a longer distance, will be the colt's toughest hurdle in his quest for the Triple Crown.

Sea Hero raced on Lasix, an anti-bleeding medication, in the Derby, but because of more stringent rules in Maryland concerning "bleeders," his trainer is not allowed to use the medication on the horse at Pimlico.

But there are several positives. Miller said he was "tickled to death" yesterday after Sea Hero turned in a blazing three-eighths of a mile workout in 35 1/5 seconds on the Pimlico strip.

"He likes this track better than Churchill Downs," Miller said. "I wanted to sharpen him up just in case they get away from us a little bit so that we can accelerate early if we have to."

There is also the possibility of a speed duel up front between groups of horses -- Personal Hope and El Bakan on the rail and Koluctoo Jimmy Al and Cherokee Run, who will have to use up some energy reserves to get a forward position early, on the outside.

"You do all of this work and preparation, then the roll of the pills [used to draw post positions] determines your fate," said Bruce Levine, trainer of Koluctoo Jimmy Al. Levine wanted an inside post rather than the 11 gate he drew.

If the front-runners tire, Sea Hero has an excellent chance for success.

Here is a look at how the race could be run:

Personal Hope, if he breaks sharply, goes to the lead, pressed by El Bakan. Koluctoo Jimmy Al and Cherokee Run sprint from the gate and attempt to cross in front of the field to get an early position near the leaders. These four horses are in the lead flight going around the first turn.

Hegar, Union City, Woods of Windsor and Rockamundo make up the second group. Sea Hero, Prairie Bayou, Too Wild and Wild Gale trail.

Going into the far turn, El Bakan should be tiring, the middle-of-the-pack horses either make their moves or fall back and the trailers that are going to be factors begin strong rallies.

At the top of the stretch, Personal Hope and Koluctoo Jimmy Al should be the remaining speed horses. Woods of Windsor is in contention and three closers -- Sea Hero, Prairie Bayou and Wild Gale -- make late bids.

Either the speed horses, Personal Hope and Koluctoo Jimmy Al, hold on in the final eighth of a mile, or they will succumb to runs by Woods of Windsor, Sea Hero, Prairie Bayou or Wild Gale.

If Sea Hero wins the Preakness, he will join a list of 25 horses to sweep the Derby and the Preakness. Eleven went on to win the Belmont Stakes, taking the Triple Crown; 14 failed, including Alysheba, Spectacular Bid and Northern Dancer.

Until Sea Hero won the Derby, the 3-year-old picture this year had little focus. The horses were taking turns beating each other in Derby preps. But then the Derby finish seemed to come right out of a Hollywood script, as Sea Hero gave his 85-year-old owner, international sportsman Paul Mellon, and Miller, 71, their first Derby victory.

"Old men and the Sea Hero" was the headline in The Louisville Courier-Journal.

The victory has given Mellon, a man with everything money can buy, "a new lease on life," Miller said.

But even if the dream of a 1993 Triple Crown winner ends in Baltimore, Sea Hero isn't the only Preakness horse with a good story line.

How about Adelaide Riggs? The 84-year-old grand dame of Howard County is attempting her first Preakness victory with her handsome colt, Woods of Windsor. She will view the race from a wheelchair.

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