Money would make for healthy Preakness

May 19, 1994|By Bill Finley | Bill Finley,New York Daily News

The Kentucky Derby winner is at Pimlico, but who else is there? Take Go For Gin out of the 10-horse field for Saturday's Preakness and this is the Pennsylvania Derby.

This is a race as notable for who's not here as for who is. Those missing include Holy Bull, Brocco and Strodes Creek, the first, second and fourth choices in the Kentucky Derby. The undefeated Twining is another, a horse never nominated to the Triple Crown series. Put three of those four in the field and you have a super race. Without them, this is one of the weakest Triple Crown events ever, a race with one Grade I winner, Go For Gin.

This had to happen. The Chrysler Corporation is no longer offering the $1-million bonus formerly given to the horse with the best overall performance in the Triple Crown. Only the $5-million bonus paid to a Triple Crown winner is left. Without the smaller bonus, what incentive is there for a trainer to start his horse in the entire Triple Crown, shipping three times to run in three races in five weeks? Very little.

The Triple Crown concept was developed more than 50 years ago, when trainers had no problem with running a horse every two or three weeks. Citation stopped off in the Jersey Derby in 1948 in between his three victorious Triple Crown races. It has changed, and the modern horse is rarely subjected to what trainers believe is a grind. So the Triple Crown, in its current format, suffers.

The best bet would have been that the Belmont Stakes would be hurt most without the $1-million bonus, that trainers would run in the first two and head home, especially the Lasix lovers. But it's the Preakness that is getting bludgeoned. Brocco and Strodes Creek are heading to Belmont because their trainers want the extra rest.

Even Nick Zito said he may have had other plans for Go For Gin if he came up short in the Derby.

"I don't know, but we probably wouldn't be here [if he lost in the Derby]," he said. "Coming back in two weeks is tough. Obviously, when you win a great race like the Derby you have to come."

The Derby will always be special because it's the Derby and the Belmont should be fine. It's the Preakness that may develop into the ugly stepsister of the Triple Crown, the race that gets the Derby winner and a bunch of other horses.

There is a solution; it's about money.

The Triple Crown races have been able to get away with petty thievery for years, shortchanging the best horses in the country in the most important races in the country. The purse for last year's Preakness was $500,000-added, which rose to a total of $725,900 when the nomination and entry fees were added to the pot.

That may seem like a lot of money, but it's not, not in the era of the $3-million race. There were 17 non-Triple Crown races run in North America last year with higher total purses than the Preakness. It's finally caught up with them. As they say, you get what you pay for.

These are supposed to be the three premier races in the country, so they should have the best purses. Otherwise, the Triple Crown may never be the same again. It's time to ante up.

* It's hard not to root for Go For Gin, the New York horse with the New York trainer, in the Preakness. Should he win, the Belmont becomes a huge event. If he loses, it's the eighth race June 11 at Belmont, the first half of the late double.

I'll be happy if he wins, but a few dollars poorer. There's a preponderance of speed in this race and unless Zito is playing mind games with other trainers, he will stick to his stated plan, to send Go For Gin from the gate, which will be a problem.

He was prospering when running on the lead and then went off course when they started to rate him. In the Derby, Zito and jockey Chris McCarron went back to Plan A and Go For Gin responded. He appears to be a one-paced horse who needs to go to the front.

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