Without bonus, Preakness is light on heavyweights

May 15, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Bring back the bonus!

That's the sentiment around Pimlico Race Course since connections to three of the main Kentucky Derby contenders -- runner-up Strodes Creek, fourth-place finisher Brocco and beaten favorite Holy Bull -- announced their horses would skip Saturday's Preakness Stakes to run in the Belmont.

The trainers all want more than two weeks for their horses to recover from the strain of the Derby.

Who can blame them?

Now that the Chrysler Corp. has dropped the $1 million bonus that rewarded the horse accumulating the most points in the three-race series, a huge incentive to participate in all of the Triple Crown races has been eliminated.

"It promotes the thinking 'What do I have to risk my horse for?' " said Nick Zito, trainer of Derby champ Go For Gin. "I think there should be a bonus. Look who won it last year -- Mr. [Paul] Mellon. He donated the whole million to charity."

Mellon's colt, Sea Hero, was considered an unworthy candidate because after winning the Derby, he finished off the board in the Preakness and Belmont stakes. If not for '93 Derby runner-up and Preakness winner, Prairie Bayou, breaking down and having to be destroyed in the Belmont, the best horse would have taken home the money.

The odds of that happening again, said Zito, "are probably a zillion-to-one."

Chrysler Corp. dropped the bonus to cut costs, but the company still offers a $5 million bonus to the horse sweeping the Triple Crown.

Some say eliminating the bonus is a good idea because it removes the greed factor: unsound horses run just in an attempt to win the bonus.

"But I've never believed that the bonus was such a powerful magnet that it dragged horses through the series," said Pimlico owner Joe De Francis.

De Francis would like to see the Triple Crown adopt a bonus similar to that offered by the Early Times Turf Triple.

Starters in all three of the grass races at Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park are eligible for increased purses, once the races are completed.

"Under this system, if you run in all three Triple Crown races, you could be eligible for double the purse money if you complete the series," De Francis said.

De Francis said he plans to propose such a bonus system to the board of Triple Crown Productions Inc. once the series is over in June.

Buddy Delp's "hot hand"

Pimlico is offering nine stakes during Preakness Week and Buddy Delp, Maryland-based trainer who won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Spectacular Bid, has an excellent chance to win two.

Delp starts Calipha, 9 1/2 -length winner of the Caesar's Wish Stakes on April 23, in the $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday and Sunny Sunrise in the $75,000 Never Bend Handicap on Preakness Day.

The nine stakes figure are likely to draw out-of-town equine stars, including a rematch between Paradise Creek and Lure, the 1-2 finishers of the Early Times Turf classic at Churchill Downs 10 days ago, in Friday's $150,000 Early Times Dixie Handicap.

Soul of the Matter back home

Fifth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Soul Of The Matter has been shipped back to the stable headquarters of his trainer, Dick Mandella, at Hollywood Park and is due for a rest, Mandella's foreman, Anthony Rogers, said last week.

Mary Wiley's return

Former jockey Mary Wiley, who was thrown and seriously fractured her knee about 2 1/2 years ago, is contemplating a return to racing.

Six weeks ago, she started galloping horses at the Bowie Training Center, and despite requests by trainers that she race, Wiley said she's "taking it one step at a time."

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