On the trail of a clue? Marciano isn't meek

May 19, 2001|By JOHN EISENBERG

LOST IN the infield without a Preakness horse to bet on? Wandering the grandstand in search of a rooting interest? Ah, fear not. Herewith is The Sun's "Umpteenth Annual Unofficial Betting Guide," designed by the hopeless for use by the hapless.

If you're looking for a dose of serious handicapping in hopes of cashing a win ticket on the big race, you're better off reading the Daily Racing Form or eavesdropping on the annoying know-it-all inevitably standing right behind you in line at the betting window. (Here's what you say to him: "Hey, don't I recognize you from the Chapter 11 notices in the business section?")

But recognizing that the majority of Preakness bettors are relative apprentices wanting as much to feel good about their wager as win, we're here with the inside dish aimed at helping you find that key factoid you can latch onto and back with a few shekels.

It's an easier task with some of the 11 entries more than others. A P Valentine, for instance, is owned by basketball coach Rick Pitino and trained by Nick Zito, a New Yorker whose barn crew often wears Yankees gear. Can you get more annoying than that?

Actually, Zito is one of the best guys in the business, so a bet in his name is always acceptable. But beware: A P Valentine has finished a combined 48 3/4 lengths behind the winners in his last three stakes races, so, if you want to experience the feeling of going to the track and buying a lottery ticket, this is your chance.

A better bet is the Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, today's likely favorite. But again, beware: His trainer, John Ward Jr., has done some radio work on the side, and his breeder, Jim Squires, is the former editor of the Chicago Tribune. So this is a media horse, no question. Meaning any of you media-hating lemmings out there had better not bet on him. Just think of the guilt.

Many casual bettors actually are just looking for a good name to invest in, of course, and this always opens up many avenues of interpretation. Among today's longest shots, for instance, is Mr. John. I could choose to believe he was named after a certain Sun sports columnist. But he also could be named after a key item of which there never are enough in the infield. Which is closer to the truth? Guess it depends on your world view.

Arguably the best name in this year's Preakness field is Marciano, sired by a former Maryland stallion named Two Punch and obviously a tribute to the late heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano. This is a horse who would have punched back at the geek who walked onto the track and took a swing at Artax during a race on the Preakness undercard two years ago.

Although bred in Virginia, Marciano has raced mostly at Laurel and Pimlico and is being ridden by a local favorite, Mark Johnston. He's the one to go with, in other words, if you believe in the karma that has delivered a Super Bowl champion, a Final Four trip and a world heavyweight champion to our area since January. (Please check the American League East standings before deciding if the karma is still buzzing.)

Percy Hope, a 50-1 shot on the morning line, obviously is someone's idea of a tribute to Percy Faith, one of the founding fathers of easy-listening music - not exactly what you'll hear in the infield today. Along those lines, the colt would have garnered a lot more support at the betting windows if his owners had named him, say, Percy Twisted Sister.

Richly Blended? He'd make a nice wagering choice for chronic java-holics. Bay Eagle? A quickie Internet search reveals a computer services company, a wood products business and an Adirondacks outpost named Eagle Bay - but no Bay Eagle. Bad sign. Griffinite? The 40-1 shot is owned by a guy who has fired two trainers since November. Orioles fans offering support would feel right at home.

Still looking for a bet after all that? There's always Dollar Bill - a nice choice for anyone who supported Bill Bradley in last year's Democratic primaries. Also anyone who likes, you know, money.

Congaree is trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Robert McNair, who owns the National Football League expansion franchise starting up in Houston next year. McNair sold his power company for $1.5 billion two years ago. The first round at the bar is definitely on him if Congaree wins. Baffert's other entry, Point Given, ran fifth as the Kentucky Derby favorite two weeks ago, making him the perfect choice for anyone who ever made the mistake of believing any good things people were saying about them.

As always, the choices are many, the reasons almost infinite. For the record, the Unofficial Betting Guide (UBG) is picking Congaree, who ran third in the Derby, followed by Monarchos and Marciano. We'd like to say it's because top jockey Jerry Bailey is riding Congaree this time, improving the colt's chances. But to be honest, in the spirit of the UBG, we really like Congaree because he drew the No. 5 post position.

You know, Brooks.

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