Could `Thief' be one to steal it for Lukas?

As horses arrive, trainer assesses his pair's chances

Notebook

May 13, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The main body of Preakness horses arrived from Churchill Downs yesterday, including the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby.

First to unload from the stream of vans pouring into Pimlico Race Course was the D. Wayne Lukas contingent, including Derby winner Charismatic and third-place Cat Thief, both of whom settled in at Lukas' customary station at the far end of the stakes barn.

Only Derby runner-up Menifee escaped the scrutiny of the media masses after taking up residence in Mary Eppler's barn on the backside of the track, the same place Victory Gallop lived last year before running second to Real Quiet in the Preakness.

Lukas reiterated that he wouldn't separate his two entries, but evaluated them separately.

"I think Charismatic had a little attitude adjustment from the Derby," he said. "He's improving so fast it amazes even me. Don't discredit the horse because of my misreading him. I was foolish enough to run him in a claiming race [in February at Santa Anita]."

Cat Thief, who set the Derby pace and fought off several challenges before finishing gamely, is "one of the few horses who was in it early on and stayed around for the fight," said Lukas, referring to his tough 3-year-old campaign that has resulted in a lot of respect but not victory.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see him win this race," the trainer said. "I think it's the toughest of the three [Triple Crown events] to win because of the two-week interval. But he's got plenty of heart; he goes out and stays there."

Menifee's trainer, Elliott Walden, greeted him at the barn and was happy with how he shipped.

"He'll go to the track and train tomorrow morning. I'll probably school him tomorrow or Friday on the turf course where they saddle, just like I did with Victory Gallop," Walden said.

A horse who never reached his rhythm after drawing the 17th post in the Derby, 18th-place finisher Vicar was bedded down near the Lukas team while trainer Carl Nafzger predicted "a tough race."

"A lot of horses came out of the Derby more mentally focused and if Charismatic steps forward like it looks like he's going to, this will be really tough, probably one of the best Preaknesses ever," Nafzger said.

Owner Mike Pegram welcomed his star filly, Silverbulletday, who will be facing males for the first time if she goes in the Preakness. "I hope we have the same Pimlico luck this year," Pegram said. "If she likes Pimlico as much as Real Quiet, we'll be fine."

The Pegram-Bob Baffert team won the Pimlico Special with Real Quiet and the Miss Preakness Stakes with Hookedonthefeelin last weekend.

"Silverbulletday is just a gifted athlete," Baffert said. "But both [also Excellent Meeting] are veterans now and can handle the big field and the turns. With Excellent Meeting's style, she takes a little time to get going. She'll need some luck."

Kimberlite Pipe, sixth in Kentucky, was also on the early plane with trainer Dallas Stewart by his side. "He's ready," said Stewart, a former Lukas assistant. "All week long I've been saying I wish the race was tomorrow. I still do."

A second wave reached Pimlico yesterday afternoon with Torrid Sand and Worldly Manner taking their places in the stakes barn and Patience Game going to the backstretch area.

"It looks like he traveled well," said Randy Morse, trainer of Torrid Sand, who was in danger of not making the field of 14 because of the controversy surrounding Valhol. That has passed.

"I was relieved when we got in," he said. "It was a long week with a different story every day. Now we can finally get down to racing." Tim Doocy gets the mount on Torrid Sand.

Both Patience Game and Worldly Manner shipped well and are scheduled to go to the track today.

`Stephen' needs a rider

With Chris McCarron out of the race because of a fractured foot, Nick Zito needed a rider for Stephen Got Even and he was waiting until after the draw.

"Well, there never has been a horse to go out there without a rider," Zito said. "Fortunately, they have a good rule here in Maryland. You don't have to name your rider at entry time."

The outcome of the Baffert decision on where his fillies would run will affect whom Zito chooses. With Silverbulletday on the extreme outside, her status is questionable.

Winner's hardware

Ever since Mrs. Alfred G. Vanderbilt declined to accept responsibility for the Woodlawn Vase's safekeeping after Native Dancer won it in 1953, a Baltimore-produced replica has been awarded to the Preakness winner.

The Woodlawn Vase, valued at $1 million, is in permanent residence at the Baltimore Museum of Art and is brought to Pimlico Race Course under guard on race day. This will be the 45th year that a half-sized reproduction, made by Baltimore silversmith Kirk-Steiff Company, has been presented to the Preakness winner.

But Saturday's Preakness winner will be the last to receive a replica made in this city.

The Lenox Company, which purchased Kirk-Steiff several years ago, has closed the plant here. A company spokesman said the trophy, valued at $25,000, will be produced in its silver manufacturing plant in Smithfield, R.I.

NTRA head meets horsemen

National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner Tim Smith met with track owners and horsemen in the Mid-Atlantic over the past few days, trying to settle a dispute involving the NTRA's plans to operate a national wagering hub.

The plan has drawn the ire of area tracks that have or plan to open their own wagering networks, which could take bets by phone, computer or satellite. The NTRA's hub would do the same thing, and, through an affiliated television network, TVG, monopolize some race telecasts.

"It was a productive, pragmatic and constructive dialogue," said NTRA spokesman Chip Tuttle of the meetings, conducted at the Fair Hill, Md., offices of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.

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