Sovereign Storm was putting on a big run, coming from last place in yesterday's seven-horse Sagamore Stakes at Laurel Park.
So, leader Fireside Brass decided it was time to get down to serious business.
"He's a hard-trying little horse," jockey Nik Goodwin said of the 7-year-old Fireside Brass. "He always digs in. When he sees other horses, he gives it his all."
His all was just enough when Fireside Brass won a head bob and staved off Sovereign Storm by a nose to capture $48,705 from the $81,175 pot over a track just upgraded to fast for the previous race.
The battle of two long shots set up when 4-5 favorite Big Rut, who was stalking the pace, was eased at the eighth pole by jockey Larry Reynolds in the 1 1/4 -mile race.
"It felt like his leg gave way when he switched leads at the top of the stretch," Reynolds said. "He probably re-injured his tendon. It didn't seem to be life-threatening."
With one of the two hottest horses in the field (Kool Krafty, the other, never fired) out of the race, Fireside Brass took command from pacesetter Praise Heaven after a mile, then was all out to the finish.
"I thought if I could slow it down, lay just off the lead and make a big run down the lane, he would go on," Goodwin said.
Fireside Brass pushed his lifetime earnings above $350,000, but is not heading for any specific race.
"We'll take it one a time," trainer Robert Beall said. "Even at his age, he likes to run."
Goodwin credited a "total team effort" in Beall's barn. "Everyone around this horse deserves credit for the victory."
The winning time was 2: 02 3/5.
With Churchill Downs going to 14 betting interests for this year's Kentucky Derby, the question arose as to whether Pimlico would have trouble handling that many for the Preakness.
"We usually don't have that problem because the Preakness fields are not as big," said Jim Mango, chief administrative officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.
It happened in 1992 when Pine Bluff won the middle leg of the Triple Crown -- after Maryland had converted to 14 runners for normal cards.
"At the time, we had a lot of horses," Mango said. "But that was in the pre-commingling years and other places had to combine the 12, 13 and 14 as the field anyway.
"We got some controversy and criticism over that."
Skip Away out at Oaklawn
Trainer Sonny Hine has declared Skip Away out of the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap after the Eclipse Award winner breezed five furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
"He came back blowing a little bit and that's not really like him," Hine told the Daily Racing Form. "He needs a couple more works and I just don't have the time."
The plan is to take Skip Away to New York and point him toward the Pimlico Special on May 3.
Apprentice Robert F. Reeves Jr., 18, finished second on Bonnie Jeanne in the first race in his maiden effort at Laurel. A native of Cincinnati, he came here from Beulah Park in Ohio and Turfway in Kentucky. Jockey Mario Pino has been suspended five days beginning Wednesday for his ride on Little Ruff in the sixth race Friday. Dates for Maryland's major spring steeplechases in the state: My Lady's Manor at Monkton, April 11; Grand National at Butler, April 18; Maryland Hunt Cup at Glyndon, April 25; Fair Hill, May 25.
Pub Date: 3/23/98