Second jewel is also second chance

Beaten Derby horses charge to Pimlico for shot at Charismatic

Menifee in favorite's role

If Derby champ wins, Triple Croen threat would be 3rd in row

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

This is the rematch, the race for settling scores after the Kentucky Derby that didn't settle anything.

So many horses encountered trouble in the Derby -- bumping, blocking, traffic jams -- that nine, maybe even 10, horses from the race will line up today for the rematch in the 124th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

No more than eight Derby horses have returned for the Preakness since the 1930s. That's a sign that this year's trainers and owners of these hot-shot 3-year-olds believe they never got the chance to show their stuff in the Derby.

It also means they're not afraid of the Derby winner.

Charismatic, hardly mentioned as even a contender in the Derby, charged from between horses for a surprising win at 31-1 odds. Menifee nearly caught him at the wire, falling short by a neck.

That late rally after a wide trip earned Menifee honors as morning-line favorite. He'll surely be the bettors' choice at post time. And that makes him a good bet: In 124 Preaknesses (two divisions were run in 1918), favorites have won 63.

D. Wayne Lukas, one of the great trainers in Triple Crown races, conditions Charismatic. He said he understands that the colt has not captured anyone's imagination, except maybe his owners, the bubbly Beverly and Bob Lewis.

"We're still raving," Lukas said. "Nobody's listening."

If Charismatic, a son of 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, triumphs today, this will be the third year in a row that the Preakness sends a horse to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Real Quiet last year and Silver Charm the year before won the Derby and Preakness before falling, narrowly, in the Belmont.

Bob Baffert trained those horses, and he's back again trying to win his third straight Preakness. He flew into Baltimore this week with two horses for the race -- both fillies -- but scratched one, the sensational Silverbulletday. He raced her yesterday instead in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. She won easily.

Baffert scratched Silverbulletday be cause she ended up with the No. 14 post, the far outside slot in the starting gate. He said he was afraid she'd have to run so fast early to gain position and avoid trouble at the turn that she might have no gas left for the run to the wire.

That left him with the filly Excellent Meeting for the Preakness. She finished fifth in the Derby after -- again -- a rough trip.

"She wouldn't be in here if I didn't think she had a chance to win," Baffert said.

The trainer Carl Nafzger said he would withdraw Vicar as well after he wound up in the 13 post. Unless several horses drop out so that Vicar can move farther inside, Nafzger said, he will officially scratch his colt this morning.

The loss of the two horses generated debate about the size of Triple Crown fields and the risk of injury when 19 horses, as was the case in the Derby, thunder into the first turn in a dangerous herd.

But Lukas, who has won 11 Triple Crown races, seemed to be the voice of reason at the Pimlico stakes barn. He said the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes are so popular because they're different from other races.

"The uniqueness of these races are the distance, the quality of all the regional horses coming together and large fields that cause problems," Lukas said. "If the guys who run in the Indy 500 next week could get it down to 10 cars, they'd like it better, too. But it isn't going to happen."

"That's what makes it so tough to win. And when you get there and get the ultimate prize, you have then whipped up on them and overcome all these problems. And that's what makes it unique."

Trouble is, the first-turn traffic jam that marred the Derby may cause havoc in the Preakness. The problem isn't so much the number of horses as the lack of early-speed horses to string out the field as it jostles for position heading into the turn.

Elliott Walden, trainer of Menifee, said he expects another jam.

"It does seem as if this group is void of really true speed," Walden said. "And everybody seems to want to be a stalker."

A stalker prefers tracking the early leaders and pouncing later in the race. The Derby, and now the Preakness, abound with stalkers. Unfortunately, they all arrive at the turn at the same time.

"I think it will be another rough run to the turn," Lukas said.

That's why Walden is overjoyed with Menifee's No. 5 post as opposed to his No. 18 in the Derby.

"We're a lot better off down on the inside," Walden said. "With all these stalkers, with everybody all bunched together, there's no room for the guys on the outside to drop over."

The guys on the outside include Jerry Bailey on Worldly Manner, Gary Stevens on Stephen Got Even and Edgar Prado on Valhol. Of that stellar bunch, Bailey may have the best chance simply because he may be riding the best horse.

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