It seems that every Preakness, one good horse cruises in under the radar and enters the gate with a chance of winning or at least hitting the board. This year, that horse is USS Tinosa.
No horse in the field has more experience, and this horse was as highly regarded as any in the race at the beginning of the year. His reputation faltered with a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
"He was bumped at the start and crunched at the first turn," said his trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, the leading conditioner in Northern California. "I don't think people realize how serious that problem was."
Hollendorfer shipped the Foxhound colt to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, but he didn't break into the original 20-horse field because of a lack of earnings. He worked well this week at Pimlico, and yesterday, after his morning gallop, he was hard to pull up.
Kent Desormeaux flew in from California to ride him. The former Maryland riding star piloted USS Tinosa his last three races.
"Kent insists we have a much better horse than that race in the Santa Anita Derby," Hollendorfer said. "He's stuck with the horse. That says a lot. We think we have a great chance or we wouldn't be here."
Helen Pitts had hoped she'd return to Maryland with the Derby winner. But when Harlan's Holiday finished seventh in the Derby, she had to settle for coming home with the Derby's beaten favorite.
Pitts, 27, is the exercise rider for Harlan's Holiday and assistant to trainer Ken McPeek. She grew up in Monkton on the family farm. Her father, Clinton, is a former track steward, and her mother, Poppet, made sure she got up early as a girl for fox hunts.
"It's been super," Pitts said yesterday of her homecoming.
Asked how it would be if Harlan's Holiday won one of the sport's biggest races, Pitts said: "I would die, absolutely die. I told Harlan: `We've got to do it for the home team.' "
Dixie tops undercard
Purse money exceeding $1 million, four graded stakes and three races on the grass will be the highlights of today's Preakness undercard.
Topping the bill will be the Grade II, $200,000 Dixie, Pimlico's original stakes race in 1870, when it was known as the Dinner Party.
Nine have drawn into the 101st running of the 1 1/8 -mile test for older horses on the turf, including Del Mar Show, the 2-to-1 overnight favorite. Del Mar Show is trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Jerry Bailey, the team that won this race last year with Hap.
The Grade III, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup at six furlongs features top-weighted Snow Ridge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
Betting favors `War'
With more than $335,000 in advance wagering computed, Medaglia d'Oro surrendered his role as Preakness favorite to Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem yesterday.
War Emblem was listed at 5-2 in the latest tabulation, with Medaglia d'Oro at 7-2 and Harlan's Holiday 9-2.
The speedy Booklet is next (5-1), followed by Derby runner-up Proud Citizen (11-1). The rest are USS Tinosa (13-1), Crimson Hero (17-1), Magic Weisner and Table Limit (each 24-1), Straight Gin and Equality (each 25-1), Easyfromthegitgo (30-1) and Menacing Dennis (35-1).
Anofferucantrefuse led from start to finish and staved off a late charge by favored McDynamo to capture the $106,800, Joe Aitcheson Hurdle Stakes, the second leg of the steeplechase Triple Crown over 2 1/8 miles.
It was the first career loss over jumps for McDynamo, who won the first Triple Crown race, the Hard Scuffle Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 2.
`Colony' slips in
Summer Colony and Dancethruthedawn staged a head-to-head stretch duel in the Grade III, $148,500 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff and a head bob separated them at the wire.
The nod went to Summer Colony - second choice in the betting to Dancethruthedawn - by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile route for older females.