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On Saturday afternoon Jockey Chris McCarron brought more than just his riding skills to the saddle. As he left the jockeys' room at Pimlico Race Course to ride Alysheba in the 112th Preakness Stakes, McCarron spied a little blonde girl waiting on the jockey porch. Eleven-year-old Odessa Clelland is the daughter of Odie Clelland, the venerable trainer under whom McCarron learned his trade. Clelland, whom Alysheba's trainer, Jack Van Berg, calls "just the finest gentleman who ever lived," died recently at age 76, and among the many he left grieving was Odessa. McCarron leaned down and kissed her.
"This one's for Odie," he said.
A few minutes and a flawless ride later, McCarron and Alysheba had won one for Odie. Moreover, the Preakness victory, coupled with their win in the Kentucky Derby two weeks before, had earned Alysheba a shot at becoming the 12th winner of the Triple Crown. A win in the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 6 will do it.
Asked later if he was nervous before the Preakness, what with so much at stake, McCarron said, "Was I nervous? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?"
McCarron slept not a moment on the back of Alysheba, who was even sharper and more aggressive than he had been in his victory at Churchill Downs. "He was much more on the muscle in the post parade," said McCarron, "and he was much more on the bridle today than he was in the Derby."
When the gates opened for the Preakness, the two swifties in the nine-horse field, Lookinforthebigone and Harriman, shot to the lead as expected, with Bet Twice and No More Flowers tracking them, and Alysheba, the 2-1 favorite, lying sixth as they swept through the first turn. Down the backside, racing far off the rail with jockey Angel Cordero Jr. and Gulch on his outside, McCarron waited for the speed to tire and begin backing up. He was standing high in the irons with two armsful of horse. Off the far turn and around the last bend, Alysheba set off for the leaders. For a moment, as Cordero moved with him on Gulch, McCarron glanced left and saw Jose Santos, the rider of the 5-2 second choice, Cryptoclearance, racing into the hunt on the rail.
"I thought he was going to be the horse to beat," McCarron said later of Cryptoclearance.
As the speed began to wilt near the top of the stretch, jockey Craig Perret moved Bet Twice toward the leaders, and Santos swung Cryptoclearance out between horses to give chase. Santos later said he had had no chance to get off the rail—Death Valley for horses at Pimlico in the days preceding the Preakness—and Cryptoclearance's trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, could not believe that Santos had had his colt down inside. "What were you thinking of?" he cried to Santos after the race.
Turning for home, Perret drove Bet Twice past Lookinforthebigone. At that point he was sure Alysheba would be coming after him. "I knew at the quarter pole it was going to be a two-horse race," Perret said.
The long drive was on. Alysheba moved to the flanks of Bet Twice nearing the eighth pole; 220 yards from the wire they were head and head. Inside the pole McCarron slashed his horse once righthanded, and Alysheba surged to the lead. With the wire less than 100 yards away, McCarron switched the stick to his left hand and whipped Alysheba four times quickly. The colt drew off in the closing yards to win by half a length. The time of 1:55[4/5] for the 1[3/16]-mile race was the slowest in the Preakness since 1975.