Pimlico may be something special

Today's race has makings of classic

May 13, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Everybody's talking about the Preakness, but the race of the year in Maryland could be this afternoon at Pimlico.

The Pimlico Special features eight horses ages 4 to 7, including Almutawakel, who won the world's richest race, and Cat Thief, who won North America's richest race. It features five horses who have earned more than $1million as well as the top three finishers in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.

In addition, the Pimlico Special showcases Lemon Drop Kid, winner of last year's Belmont and Travers Stakes. He provides a cast of part-time and former Marylanders who could turn the GradeI $750,000 stakes into a homecoming celebration.

Edgar Prado, the former Maryland jockey star, will return to his home state to ride Lemon Drop Kid as well as several horses in races on the undercard. Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, who own Lemon Drop Kid, also own Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks.

"It would be wonderful to win the Pimlico Special," said Dance, a lifelongresident of Baltimore County. "It'd be wonderful to win it whether it was a good local story or not."

The Pimlico Special is one of the country's premier races for older horses - that is, horses beyond their 3-year-old season when the Triple Crown series is all the rage. In the Special's 34 renewals, 12 winners have gone on the same year to become Horse of the Year.

Clem Florio, Pimlico's oddsmaker, named Lemon Drop Kid the morning-line favorite at 3-1. But Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form oddsmaker, listed two horses lower than Lemon Drop Kid, whom he made 4-1: K One King at 3-1 and Budroyale at 7-2.

Their differences indicate the competitiveness of the field and signal to the gambler: If you have an opinion, this is the time to step up.

Here are the six Pimlico Special entrants considered prime contenders (Florio's estimated odds in parentheses)

Lemon Drop Kid (3-1): He finished first in both his races this year. But in the Widener Handicap at Gulfstream Park he was disqualified to fourth for bumping another horse, and in an allowance race at Aqueduct he was all-out to finish in a dead heat with a long shot.

That dead heat prompted his owners and his trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, to replace their regular jockey, Jose Santos, with Prado. Schulhofer said Santos moved too soon, then allowed Lemon Drop Kid to fall asleep on the lead.

Prado has breezed Lemon Drop Kid three times in the morning but hasn't ridden him in a race. Despite riding in New York last summer and Florida this winter, Prado has retained his home in Howard County. He is currently based at Belmont Park.

"It's always exciting to come back to Maryland and ride," Prado said. "That's home. That's the place that really made me."

Schulhofer, who calls Lemon Drop Kid the best horse he's trained, said he's better than ever for the Pimlico Special.

Cat Thief (7-2): He won the $4million Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Gulfstream Park at 19-1. The Classic is this continent's richest race. But Cat Thief has not won in five races since.

"We don't worry about him," said his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. "We bring him over and send him around there. He doesn't always win, but he keeps everybody honest.

"K One King (4-1): His record is phenomenal: first or second in nine of 10 races. And the one in which he finished off the board (eighth in last year's Kentucky Derby), he chipped his left front ankle. Still, he closed from 19th to within 4 1/2 lengths of the winner, Charismatic.

After undergoing surgery and taking nine months off, he has run two spectacular races this year. In the GradeI Oakland Handicap last month at Oaklawn Park, he stumbled at the start and blew past horses for an authoritative victory. In that race he beat five of the horses back together again for the Pimlico Special.

"He matured physically; he was still growing at Derby time," his trainer Akiko Gothard said of the colt's forced layoff. "Maybe God made me wait for him to grow some more.

"Budroyale (9-2): He finished second to Cat Thief in the Breeders' Cup Classic at odds of 26-1. A one-time $50,000 claimer in Southern California, he finished first or second in six straight races before throwing in an uncharacteristic clunker in the Oaklawn Handicap.

His trainer, Ted West, said the 7-year-old gelding has trained strongly for the Special.

Almutawakel (6-1): Owned by Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, Almutawakel won the world's richest race in 1999, the $6million Dubai World Cup.

He's lost six straight since. His trainer, Mark Hennig, said he will fit the horse with blinkers for the first time in the Special.

Golden Missile (8-1): He finished third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He hasn't won since August, but trainer Joe Orseno said the 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy keeps meeting horses who run their career best.

"Sooner or later a race is going to play to his favor," Orseno said.

NOTES: All was quiet yesterday, with the three Preakness horses at Pimlico (Hal's Hope, High Yield and Red Bullet), the three at Churchill Downs (Captain Steve, Fusaichi Pegasus and Snuck In), the one at Hollywood Park (Hugh Hefner) and the one at Belmont Park (Wheelaway).

Pimlico Special

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Today

Post time: 5:40 p.m.

TV: Ch.45, 5 p.m.

Purse: $750,000

Grade: I

Favorite: Lemon Drop Kid

Special year

Pimlico Special winners who in the same year earned Horse of the Year honors:

1937--War Admiral

1938--Seabiscuit

1939--Challedon

1940--Challedon

1942--Whirlaway

1944--Twilight Tear

1946--Assault

1948--Citation

1953--Tom Fool

1990--Criminal Type

1995--Cigar

1998--Skip Away

Note: The Pimlico Special was not run 1959 to 1987.

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