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Track familiarity

Horses who have run at Pimlico could have an edge in the Preakness.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


H. Graham Motion isn't about to proclaim his colt as a major contender in the 126th Preakness Stakes.

But he and his little-known Bay Eagle will do something neither Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, Congaree nor Point Given will do on Saturday: wake up in their own stables.

Monarchos proved he was the best on Derby day nearly two weeks ago with a 4 3/4-length victory and a historic clocking. But just as Fusaichi Pegasus' preordained Triple Crown campaign was sniped at the 2000 Preakness by a Red Bullet, the 2001 Derby winner will have to contend with a collection of colts who have been honing especially for the less-heralded third Saturday in May.

For men like Motion and Tim Ritchey -- trainer of his 30-1 shot, Marciano -- who run horses in Maryland and Delaware and see Pimlico Race Course before the Preakness paint is slathered on, it's like having the circus come to town.

"Obviously, there are a lot of advantages to being familiar with the area," Motion said. "My horse doesn't have to leave his stable until Saturday morning. Everything is as normal -- no big deal -- and obviously, we like that."

Monarchos trainer John Ward, who placed the winning $4-million bid on Fusaichi Pegasus for Fusao Sekiguchi, realizes winning a Triple Crown entails fending off unforeseen challenges.

"If (Red Bullet-owner Frank Stronach) had run that horse in the Kentucky Derby, I'm not sure he would have been a fresh-enough horse to beat (Pegasus) last year," he said. "So there's always somebody in the wings waiting for you with a fresh animal."

Perhaps that is why Ward has strayed from traditional Triple Crown training with Monarchos, choosing jogs and gallops during race weeks rather than the 3-, 4- or 5-furlong blowouts most trainers prefer.

Whether the Preakness specialists have enough horse is another matter. Only 10-1 choice Richly Blended and Griffinite, a 50-1 shot, have won a graded stakes.

Bay Eagle and Marciano likely will run in their only Triple Crown race Saturday because they have local owners taking a shot at the big local race. That they are the only colts in the 11-horse field to have won (or raced) at Pimlico bolsters Motion's notion.

"(Bay Eagle) having already showed he likes the surface played a lot into our decision," he said. "We thought, "Why not give him his shot?' "

That's what a local owner likes to hear, especially one like Joe Allbritton, who has celebrated under Black-eyed Susans before. The Virginian campaigned Hansel, a 5-2 favorite that finished 10th in the 1991 Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness, Belmont and 3-year-old male championship.

"Everyone would like to win the Derby, but (the Preakness) means a lot to the locals," Motion said.

The five-week Triple Crown series imparts a physical hammering on young horses. So owners without deep pockets or long strings of horses are often compelled to pick and choose their best shot at a huge purse. The Preakness winner will earn $650,000.

With so many prep races offering bonuses for winning there and at a Triple Crown event, selectivity becomes even more important.

Tony Reinstedler said he opted out of the Kentucky Derby because his colt needed rest, but as the winner of the Lone Star Derby, Percy Hope can earn $1-million more for a win on Saturday.

Ben Perkins Jr., who trains Richly Blended, used the Triple Crown series' attrition factor to zero in on the Preakness.

"We felt there was so much speed in the Derby, it would be tough to have a front-end horse and be successful," he said. "The Derby took away five of the real speed horses. And the ones who came here from the Derby (Monarchos, Point Given, Congaree, Dollar Bill, A P Valentine) had a real tough race two weeks ago."

So maybe, just maybe, a man like Motion can swipe a piece of history.

"We're honest," he said. "The Derby horses are the ones to beat. We hope maybe the Derby softened them up a bit, and that's when we get our chance."

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