The sun never broke through yesterday afternoon, but you knew the clouds couldn't hold it back for long, because D. Wayne Lukas and Sonny Hine had arrived.
The Preakness finally got a breath of life when Lukas, the most recognizable trainer in the business, and Hine, perhaps the most likable, pulled up to Pimlico's stakes barn, followed by their horses in huge vans the equivalent of stretch limousines.
"We like it here in Baltimore. Baltimore's been good to us," said Lukas, after situating his six horses -- including his Preakness trio -- in stakes barn stalls.
Down the barn a bit, a little later in the afternoon, Hine stood with his hands in his pockets and said: "Everybody's been coming by here. This is old home week."
Hine trained horses in Maryland for nearly 30 years, and his wife, Carolyn, was born and raised in Highlandtown.
Their horse Skip Away (Carolyn is owner, Sonny is trainer) could compete with Lukas' three -- Editor's Note, Victory Speech and Prince of Thieves -- for Preakness glory at 5: 31 p.m. tomorrow.
Their arrival yesterday was a boon to a Preakness that had been stung by the losses of the Kentucky Derby winner (Grindstone, knee injury) and perhaps the best 3-year-old in the country (Unbridled's Song, foot injury), and the reluctance of most trainers to bring their horses to Pimlico before midweek.
"That is a training decision," Lukas said. "There's no reason to come."
He said the atmosphere at his Churchill Downs barn, where his Preakness horses remained after the Derby, was serenity compared with this.
The stakes barn here is next to a parking lot at the corner of Winner and Rogers avenues. It's noisy and distracting, Lukas said.
"No way these horses get any rest here," he said. "If they changed one thing about these Triple Crown races, they ought to change that."
And, he said, the longer he's here, the longer his staff has to stay in hotels or the dorms in Pimlico's scruffy barn area.
L "And they're not exactly deep carpet," he said of the dorms.
Nevertheless, Lukas settled in quickly, a new navy-blue cap perched on his head. In gold it proclaimed: "6" surrounded by six little crowns.
That symbolized Lukas' six straight wins in Triple Crown races -- the first with Tabasco Cat in the 1994 Preakness, and the sixth with Grindstone two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby.
Five days later, Grindstone was retired because of a chip in his right front knee.
"I have a sneaking hunch we might go off the favorite," Lukas said of the bettors' preference in the Preakness. "People in Baltimore like us. They might go for Prince of Thieves, especially with [jockey Jerry] Bailey."
Prince of Thieves finished third in the Kentucky Derby -- like another Lukas horse last year, Timber Country, who then came to Baltimore and won the Preakness. Bailey, the nation's hot jockey, will ride Prince of Thieves tomorrow.
But Prince of Thieves is not favored in the early track odds. They favor the Bob Baffert-trained Cavonnier, who lost the Derby by a nose.
Lukas landed in Baltimore in fine fettle, smiling, joking, answering every question from his greeting party -- dozens of reporters.
"The hill's getting steeper," he said of his growing record in the 3-year-old classic races. "Obviously, we're realistic about that. We can't keep going on and on and on.
"But if we get eight, watch out for nine."
Eight would come in the Belmont Stakes, and nine would occur in next year's Kentucky Derby. Lukas said his stable of 2-year-olds is his deepest ever.
But first things first.
"We know how to win this race," Lukas said of the Preakness. "We learned that long ago."
Lukas won the race in 1980 with Codex and in 1985 with Tank's Prospect before pulling off wins the past two years.
"We're going to send three fine horses over there, like we did in the Derby, with five. . . . We'll march over there pretty loose."
Also marching in loose was Hine, who greeted grooms and hot walkers with hugs and old stories. He said what was left of Preakness Week would be a cyclone of visiting friends and relatives.
As for Skip Away, who ran dismally in the Derby, finishing 12th, Hine said: "He got beat so bad down there. We looked for every reason not to come, but we couldn't find any."
So the Hines brought him. And Lukas brought his three. And now they're munching hay in Baltimore alongside Cavonnier.
Finally, it feels as if something big is about to happen at Pimlico.
Pub Date: 5/17/96