- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was 76� when they dished out the Maryland crab cakes at Pimlico on the 92nd Preakness Day last week. The tension index, however, rose well above that, as the 10 horses were being saddled for the mile-and-three-sixteenths classic worth $194,000—the richest purse ever for any of the Triple Crown races. It was not only because five of the 10 (including one entry) were actually going off at odds of 9 to 2 or less. There was a certain nostalgia connected with the whole show on the dazzlingly clear afternoon, and many of the 38,371 spectators seemed to sense it and to appreciate being part of it.
"I want to see the horse win, of course," said one veteran Maryland observer. "But it's the sight of those wonderful, familiar colors that does something to me." The colors were the white with red dots of Belair Stud, once worn by jockeys astride the horses of the William Woodward family. The magnificent Belair estate with its 2,500 acres and mansion built in 1746—long since sold for development—was the Woodward home, only 20 miles from Pimlico. Belair also had been the home of many great horses. From the mansion had come the orders of William Woodward Sr. to run Gallant Fox and Omaha in the Preakness on the way to their Triple Crown victories. Twelve years ago Belair, then in the hands of handsome and popular Bill Woodward Jr., sent Nashua to the Preakness to make amends for his defeat by Swaps in the Kentucky Derby. Swaps was not in the field for that 1955 Preakness, but Nashua set a track record of 1:54[3/5], beating Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's Saratoga by one length. It was a happy day for Belair, and the Woodwards, and few believed that it would be 12 years before the scene would be duplicated. But then came the tragic incident that cost Bill Woodward his life; dispersal of the racing stable and the Belair property quickly followed.
The red-and-white silks reappeared a few years ago, in the name of Bill's sister, Mrs. Thomas Bancroft, and last Saturday they thundered back into prominence in Maryland in such style that even the day's losers had to admire it. With Bill Shoemaker wrapped in the colors made famous by Earl Sande and Eddie Arcaro, Damascus won the Preakness, coming from next-to-last place to win comfortably by two and a quarter lengths over In Reality, who was another four lengths to the good of Kentucky Derby Winner Proud Clarion. Damascus, who had finished third to Proud Clarion and Barbs Delight at Churchill Downs, ticked off the distance in 1:55[1/5], making this the second fastest Preakness, only three-fifths of a second off Nashua's 12-year-old record. It was the fourth time the red and white had made it to the Preakness winner's circle, and it was certainly one of the most satisfying classic victories ever.
Long before Damascus and Shoemaker came pounding down Pimlico's hard stretch, however, there was a good deal of speculation about this Preakness—particularly about how its various contestants would elect to run. Much of the guesswork was carried on by newsmen, horsemen and racing officials, not by the Preakness trainers themselves. Winning Derby Trainer Loyd (Boo) Gentry, for example, was sitting in bed in New York's Doctors Hospital, being treated for hepatitis between phone calls to his assistant, Jim Mahoney, at Pimlico. Eddie Neloy decided (wisely, it turned out) that his presence in Baltimore would do little to increase the chances of Wheatley Stable's Great Power.
And then, of course, there was Frank Whiteley, the trainer of Damascus, who seems to treat every racing crowd as if it had the bubonic plague. Whiteley kept Damascus at Laurel, never worked him at Pimlico and did not bring him to the scene of combat until 9 o'clock on race-day morning. But when Damascus and Whiteley did appear—they were, typically, the last of the 10 starters to arrive in the attractive infield saddling ring—something new had been added. "You know how this colt was rank and nervous in Louisville," Whiteley explained. "I don't know what caused it, but today I decided that I'd bring along a lead pony for the first time in Damascus' career. I thought it might help him." Apparently it did, for in the crowded ring Damascus stood quietly, nuzzling a gray pony as though he had found his only friend in the world. He did not break out, he neither flinched nor kicked, and he looked superb. Most important, this striking son of Sword Dancer looked ready to run the race of his life.
In this country trainers customarily send horses to the post with lead ponies. Whiteley had even shattered tradition in Paris two years ago when he requested permission to send Tom Rolfe onto the Longchamp turf with a pony. But he had insisted, up to the Preakness, that Damascus needed no special companion to quiet him. Frank acquired the gray pony two months ago when a Laurel-based horseman was leaving for Kentucky and found he had no room to take along his 8-year-old gray hack, named Duffy. Whiteley bought Duffy and rides him daily with each set of his horses in training. Damascus and Duffy took to each other immediately, and each seems to understand what is expected of him. Last week, however, Duffy was momentarily carried away by it all. On the way to the post of Pimlico it was Duffy who tried to run away. Damascus saved his running for later.
During Preakness week many other trainers felt their horses were just as ready as Damascus, despite certain questions that bobbed up at press conferences and found their way into print. Sunshine Calvert made no secret of the fact that he was miffed—and rightly so—because Pimlico had canceled a prep race eight days before the Preakness. He felt that it was asking a lot of his Florida Derby winner, In Reality, to take on this field after a seven-week absence from competition. "But racing is just a big guessing game, I suppose," he said 48 hours before the race. "I put a work into my colt, and I hope it will be enough for him. I think my horse is just fine. That is, I thought so until I read in the papers that his ankles were mushy and that he won't be in the money. His ankles look fine to me, and he is going to run a good race. That I know for sure."
Proud Clarion's condition was somewhat questionable. In the days immediately preceding the Preakness he appeared to have lost a little flesh, but, of course, Boo Gentry couldn't see this all the way from Doctors Hospital and his assistant was under orders to do the training as instructed—and no talking. When Owners Mr. and Mrs. John W. Galbreath showed up for the Preakness lunch they were nervous, but still optimistic. Galbreath, as always, was also realistic. "The way I see it," he said, "is that there's a lot of early speed in the race, which is good. If Great Power, Barbs Delight and In Reality go out there and burn themselves out instead of stealing the race, it should mean that the winner will be the come-from-behind horse with the best finishing kick. That should be Proud Clarion or Damascus. Believe me, I'm like a lot of other people. I'm still not entirely convinced that Proud Clarion is the best horse."
This same spirit swept the crowd at Pimlico. Proud Clarion shared third in the betting with In Reality, behind Damascus and Barbs Delight. As the gate flew open, Great Power and Celtic Air (an entry with Damascus) went to the front. Bill Hartack was moving up with Barbs Delight to run right behind them, while In Reality was fifth, Damascus eighth and Proud Clarion last into the clubhouse turn. "That didn't bother me at all," said Shoemaker later. "He came right back to me after the break, and I knew immediately he was more relaxed and not in the least rank."
Bobby Ussery on Proud Clarion was equally undisturbed. "I was only two lengths back of Shoe," he said, "and figured that he had the horse to beat. We may have been farther back than we would have liked, but the chief opposition was right there, too, so I didn't do too much worrying."