Charismatic ... again!

Derby champ one win from Triple Crown

Pimlico draws 100,311, record Preakness crowd

Horse triumphs at 8-1 odds

Trainer Lukas captures race for fifth time

124th Preakness

May 16, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

If a one-time claiming horse could win the Kentucky Derby, then why not the Preakness and -- for that matter -- the Triple Crown?

Long-shot Derby champion Charismatic charged to the lead on the final turn and sprinted home with the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown yesterday in the 124th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

Police estimated the crowd at 100,311, the largest in history, with 65,000 packing the infield. It was a perfect afternoon for Baltimore's signature sporting event. The temperature was in the low 70s, a cool breeze greeting the horses as they broke from the gate.

The crowd was festive and well-behaved, though one 22-year-old fan nearly turned the day into a disaster when he ran onto the track during the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap about 2-1/2 hours before the feature race. The incident disrupted an important race and forced Pimlico to refund about $1.4 million in betting slips but did not result in any injuries.

In the Preakness, jockey Chris Antley had Charismatic third from the rail into the stretch and brought him home by 1-1/2 lengths to embellish one of racing's great Cinderella stories. The chestnut colt went off at 8-1, the longest odds for a Derby champion to win the Preakness since Dark Star went off at 11-1 in 1953.

The crowd roared throughout the race, but the cheering reached a peak when it became apparent that there would be a Triple Crown challenge at the Belmont Stakes on June 5.

Charismatic out-rushed favorite Menifee and 50-1 long-shot Badge to give trainer D. Wayne Lukas his fifth Preakness victory, paying $18.80 for the win, $7.60 for place and $5.80 for show. The winning time was 1 minute, 55.2 seconds, well off the record of 1: 53.4.

Charismatic, a son of 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, went off at 31-1 odds at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, and why not? In February, the horse ran in a claiming race -- the lowest level of competition, in which each horse can be bought for a predetermined price.

In Charismatic's case, the price was $62,500. There were no takers.

Now, the colt is one more unlikely victory away from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Triple Crown comes with a $5 million bonus.

"I would never be so rash as to say he's going to win the Triple Crown," said owner Bob Lewis, "but it could. If that happened, wouldn't it be a wonderful thing for this sport that we love so much?"

Profitable day

It was a very profitable day for the Maryland Jockey Club, which handled $8.8 million in in-state wagering. The total handle, including out-of-state simulcast revenue, was nearly $46 million.

Jockey Club President Joseph A. De Francis couldn't have asked for more, especially in the wake of the power failure that nearly forced the postponement of last year's race.

But the star-studded racing card could easily have been marred by several serious injuries after the fan, identified by police as Lee Ferrell of Bel Air, tried to obstruct the stretch drive of the seventh race.

"It was pretty straightforward," De Francis said. "A fan from the infield went onto the track. Thank God that no one was hurt."

Pimlico stewards reviewed film of the race and decided to leave the order of finish unchanged but scratched Artax and refunded betting tickets that included the horse.

If not for that glaring incident, the day would have been a relatively uneventful one for Baltimore police, though the Preakness infield party lived up to its decadent legend.

Thousands of inebriated revelers proved that political incorrectness is alive in Baltimore.

The pasty white skin of bare-chested men seared under blue sky as the strolling, bikini-topped women trampled aluminum beer cans glistening in the sun.

Baltimore police Officer Jerome Thompson stood watch over the sweating chaos, summing it all up in four simple words: "Add alcohol, instant idiot."

Cooling breeze

Seventy infield revelers were ejected from the grounds, police said, and five unruly fans were arrested. "They get a few beers and they think they're invincible," Thompson said.

Three patrons were arrested for fighting with police. The patrolman acknowledged being blessed with a spring breeze that kept the infield at a simmer, preventing it from cooking to a boil.

"It's an organized mess," said Eric Rock of York, Pa.

Sun staff writer Gerard Shields contributed to this article.

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