Excellent Meeting breathes easy after race

Baffert filly is pulled up after squeeze in traffic

Notebook

124th Preakness

May 16, 1999|By Kent Baker and Tom Keyser | Kent Baker and Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Excellent Meeting, the third filly to run in the Preakness since 1939, did not complete the race. She got squished between horses early, and down the backstretch she quit running.

Her trainer, Bob Baffert, said she may have displaced her palate, causing her difficulty breathing.

"We scoped her and she's OK," Baffert said, referring to a veterinarian's look into her lungs. "It may have happened when Kent [Desormeaux] had to check real hard as she went under the wire the first time."

With Excellent Meeting dropping out before the finish, the last horse to pass under the wire was Worldly Manner, the horse from the Middle East. Tom Albertrani, assistant trainer for Godolphin Racing, the Dubai-based stable that owns him, was mystified.

"I can't explain things right now," he said. "We were in good position, and he just started backing up at the three-eighths pole."

Day rides Dixie winner

With a four-wide move down the lane, Middlesex Drive upheld his favorite's role yesterday in the Grade II, $200,000 Dixie Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Sky Colony.

Pat Day brought the son of Pine Bluff home to his first stakes victory of the year.

"When I got clear in the stretch, he really exploded," said Day. "He hit a soft spot and took a funny step with his left leg. But you have to expect that on turf."

Discovering his best distance has been the problem with Middlesex Drive, whose victory in the eighth race was at 1 1/8 miles in 1: 48 3/5. Owner Phil Hauswald has been impressed with his ability and now his turf capability.

The pace was extremely slow -- 24 4/5 seconds and 49 2/5 -- and that cost a number of contenders.

"There was no pace and we got a little too far back," said Shane Sellers, who rode Sky Colony.

"Slow! Nobody went," said Mike Smith, rider of Divide and Conquer. "I was planning to sit fifth or sixth off the leaders, but instead I was behind them all around. They were backing up in my face."

Upset in Distaff

Long shot Mil Kilates came roaring up an open rail to overtake speed-dueling Merengue and Unbridled Hope by three lengths in the Grade III, $200,000 Pimlico Distaff.

Merengue, carrying top weight of 121 pounds, held on grudgingly by a nose to take the place from Unbridled Hope, whose four-race winning streak was broken.

Sellers rode the daughter of Gold Alert to her 11th career victory at 10-to-1 odds.

"We got through on the rail all right, but I was going to go somewhere," said Sellers. "I had a ton of horse. I thought I ought to win it, my horse was doing so well."

Merengue drifted off the rail to make way for Mil Kilates, bred and owned by John Franks. "We drew the two post today and decided we might as well stay there as long as we could. It's the shortest way home," said trainer Bobby Barnett.

Jockey Rick Wilson said all the commotion in the infield distracted Merengue. "She was shying away. She came off the fence and I didn't want her to come off the fence."

Lead Em Home rallies

Scratched from the Preakness, Lead Em Home came from off the pace under Desormeaux to win the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Raire Standard.

Thomas Jo used this race as a springboard to a third-place finish in the Belmont last year. The two long shots produced a $719.60 exacta payoff as favored Straight Man, trained by Bob Baffert, faded to last.

"I could kick myself in the butt," said winning trainer Phil Marino. "I should have run this horse in the Preakness. But I didn't want to put Mrs. [Sandi] Kleeman in a bad spot. I thought the best thing was to go in this race. The way he ran, I'm kicking myself."

Marino said he made a mistake in the Derby Trial by closing the blinkers on the horse, but reopened them yesterday.

"The race set up perfectly," said Desormeaux. "It was a credit to the trainer. This horse was ready to go. It's great to win one at home, here in Maryland."

Fan interference

The Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap was disrupted by a fan who walked onto the track and stood directly in the horses' path on the homestretch. Jockey Jerry Bailey managed to avoid the man -- identified as Lee Ferrell, 22, of Bel Air -- and won with D. Wayne Lukas' 3-year-old, Yes It's True, a Triple Crown nominee.

The margin was 4 3/4 lengths over The Trader's Echo, who also managed to steer clear of the man standing in the stretch of the Grade III, $200,000 race.

Despite the incident, Yes It's True navigated six furlongs in 1: 09 1/5, just a fifth of a second off the track record held by Northern Wolf.

Crashing the gate

The 124th Preakness shattered all records for attendance and total handle.

The attendance on site exceeded 100,000 for the first time, with a crowd of 100,311, compared with the 1998 figure of 91,122.

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