Hopes for jewel of a race

Derby champ Charismatic, favorite Menifee are part of intriguing Pimlico field

100,000 expected at track

Comeback jockey Antley makes return to his roots

124th Preakness

May 15, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Charismatic is the horse chasing the Triple Crown, but he represents just one of the compelling stories in today's 124th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

Menifee, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, will be the Preakness favorite. And Worldly Manner, the horse from the Middle East who finished seventh in the Derby, adds international flair.

The second jewel of the Triple Crown is a fitting sequel to the Derby: the comeback kid on Charismatic, a trainer seeking a third straight win, a filly taking on males and a controversial horse prompting jokes about batteries.

A crowd approaching 100,000 is expected for the race at the historic track in Northwest Baltimore. Gates open at 8: 30 a.m., the first race is at 10: 45 a.m. and everybody's praying that the power stays on. Post time for the Preakness, featured on ABC television, is 5: 27 p.m.

After last year's fiasco, when a heat wave sparked a power outage, Pimlico and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials upgraded equipment and hauled in enough backup generators to launch the space shuttle. The power should prevail. If it doesn't, the joke goes, thank goodness for Valhol.

He's the horse who won the Arkansas Derby, and afterward his jockey was accused of carrying an illegal electrical device. Such devices, called "batteries," could be used to shock a horse into running faster.

Batteries are also useful when the lights go out.

Valhol's jockey denies the charge. The case is in court. Edgar Prado, the gentlemanly jock from Maryland, is Valhol's new rider for the Preakness.

The jockey for Derby winner Charismatic returns to where his long, strange trip began. Chris Ant-ley started riding in 1983 at Pimlico. From there, he soared to the heavens as one of the country's premier riders and plunged to the depths as an abuser of drugs and alcohol. He also fought the jockey's devil: weight gain.

Two weeks ago in the Derby, he won, nearly cried, thanked God and said his comeback was complete. Today, he strides toward immortality, trying to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown. The final leg, the Belmont Stakes, will take place June 5 in New York.

Another intriguing entry is Worldly Manner. The ruling family of the Persian Gulf kingdom of Dubai owns Worldly Manner, whom they bought for $5 million last fall from his California breeders. The sheiks whisked him away to their private training center in the desert, where they've prepared horses for victories in most of the world's major races -- but not the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, at least not yet.

The horse who spent the week on center stage isn't even running in the Preakness. Silverbulletday, one the greatest fillies in years, was withdrawn after getting an unfavorable post position. Yesterday, she blew away her opposition, all fillies, in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

That left the white-haired trainer from California, Bob Baffert, with one chance to win his third consecutive Preakness. The trainer R. W. Walden won five in a row from 1878 to 1882.

Baffert's remaining entrant is Excellent Meeting, also a filly. Only four fillies have won the Preakness. Only two have run in it since 1939.

But horse racing is an inexact science. It might not even be a science at all. It's a joy, a lark, a stab in the dark.

It's the Preakness.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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