War Emblem hits Pimlico running

Kentucky Derby winner, Harlan's Holiday among horses giving track a test

Preakness notebook

Horse Racing

May 17, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The majority of the Preakness horses spent a quiet morning yesterday taking a leisurely gallop around the track.

Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem received his first look at the Pimlico Race Course surface and apparently is relishing the fame associated with the Triple Crown.

"He had never seen all this attention before, but he is getting used to all the flashbulbs and onlookers," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He understands that something special is going on and that he is a big part of that. He knows where the cameras are, and he even likes to strike a pose from time to time."

The beaten Derby favorite, Harlan's Holiday, also galloped in his bid to become the first Ohio-bred horse since Culpepper in 1874 to win the Preakness (USS Tinosa was also bred in Ohio).

Trainer Ken McPeek said his horse "has given every indication that he is ready to rebound" from the Derby. "We are ready to move on."

The speedy Booklet "handled the track well" and, like trainer John Ward, "is happy to be here. There isn't any one or two horses getting all the attention. That can create a good atmosphere to work in. All the trainers are pretty upbeat and jovial."

Ward was particularly jovial at the Alibi Breakfast, noting that he has "Baffert looking over his shoulder, [D.] Wayne Lukas happy to have me here and Kenny McPeek offering to pay my way home if I set the pace."

Nick Zito's two trainees, Straight Gin and Crimson Hero, will start alongside each other in posts 3 and 4, and Zito said, "This way, I'll be inside all that action on the outside."

One of the locals, Equality, who is stabled at Delaware Park, also seems to have adapted well to Pimlico. "He seems to be a happy horse, and that can mean a lot," said trainer H. Graham Motion. Equality will break from Post 13, which has never produced a Preakness winner.

The two Lukas horses, Table Limit and Proud Citizen, also galloped. Lukas said he would have preferred "a more inside position" than No. 12 for Proud Citizen but praised the track as "in tremendous shape."

Menacing Dennis and USS Tinosa also galloped at Pimlico, while Magic Weisner stood at the starting gate at Laurel Park, his home base.

USS Tinosa has captured a lot of fancy after a blistering four-furlong workout of 46 2/5 seconds.

He also captured the rail in the post-position draw, a spot jockey Kent Desormeaux recommended to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer if the center of the gate was not available.

Magic Weisner's owner-trainer, local favorite Nancy Alberts, said she chose Richard Migliore to ride as "a business decision. I hated to do it, and it doesn't make me happy but I felt I had to do the best thing for the horse."

Migliore was aboard Smoked Em, who beat Magic Weisner by two lengths in the Tesio. Phil Teator lost the mount.

"[Migliore's connections] called me after beating me in the Tesio and said they shouldn't have," Alberts said. "I wanted to ride someone from Maryland, but they were all taken."

That reference was to last year's national riding champion, Ramon Dominguez, and Pimlico's current leading jockey, Mario Pino.

"I feel bad for Teator. Phil did nothing wrong with the horse. It would have been a great thrill for him to ride in the Preakness," said Migliore, who added that Magic Weisner is "an honest, consistent horse. You hope he gets the trip and you hope he has the ability to compete."

Vesta wins Miss Preakness

Vesta scored one for the locals in the first stakes of the week, going gate to wire to win the six-furlong, $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes yesterday.

In the process, the Five K Farm filly turned back two highly rated out-of-towners, New York-based A New Twist and Baffert-trained Shameful from California.

Another local, Willa On the Move, rallied for the place ahead of Shameful as A New Twist never got into the race.

Vesta had finished a tiring sixth in her previous Grade III test, but quickly seized the lead and drove to victory under Pino in 1:10 1/5.

"It wasn't the plan to go to the front, but our whole strategy went out the window when she broke on top," Pino said. "She was gone, made an easy lead, and she was working at the end."

Race shift

The Grade III, $125,000 Gallorette Handicap - usually held on Black-Eyed Susan day - was shifted to the Preakness card to "provide more turf races with the Preakness. People like to bet on them," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Shifted to today's program was the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff, which "usually only attracts six horses or so," Raffetto said. "This year it didn't work out because it got 12."

All the scheduled turf races were switched to the main track Wednesday after a rainfall to keep the grass course in optimum condition for tomorrow.

But inclement weather on Preakness Day could foil all the planning. Rain is forecast for the Baltimore area tomorrow, with showers expected to subside before the Preakness. The track surface should have plenty of time to dry before the scheduled 6:09 p.m. start.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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