Still buzzing about a Kentucky Derby that was one of the best contests in years, racing buffs happily may contemplate an even better Preakness. Three of the first five Derby finishers are back—Majestic Prince, Arts and Letters and Top Knight—and a few newcomers should enhance the action of Round 2 in the Triple Crown series.
Two of the Derby's top five will pass up the mile and [3/16] race at Pimlico (a sixteenth shorter than Louisville's). Dike ran down slightly at Churchill Downs and will be saved for the Belmont; Traffic Mark will henceforth associate with less formidable rivals. In their places, filling out a field that may go as high as 10, are Al Hattab, beaten only a nose by Dike in the Wood Memorial, Dike's stablemate Jay Ray, the come-from-be-hind winner of the California Derby, Calumet Farm's Best Turn, Elmendorf Farm's Captain Action, Mike Phipps' Greengrass Greene and, possibly, Tyrant and Rooney's Shield, who were awarded second and third place in last week's foul-marred Withers at Aqueduct.
The Withers results, unfortunately, offer little guidance to the Preakness. The first across the finish line, Neil Hell-man's 18-to-1-shot, Gleaming Light, was disqualified and placed fifth for obvious interference in the stretch. Since he missed out on any part of the purse and isn't a Preakness nominee to begin with, it seems highly unlikely that Hellman will cough up $10,000 this week to make Gleaming Light a supplementary nomination. Captain Harry Guggenheim's Ack Ack thus became the Withers winner by default and, for the first time in his long career, Jockey Manuel Ycaza won a stakes race through a disqualification. But Guggenheim announced after the race that Ack Ack had tired and would skip the Preakness. Such also-rans as Blade and Palauli probably will, too, and indeed, those who are electing to challenge the Derby big three do not have the most cheering prospects. But optimism is a part of every horseman's makeup. Jimmy Conway, trainer of Captain Action, says, "It's a little like going bear hunting with a switch, but I guess we've got to give it a try."
Majestic Prince, Arts and Letters and Top Knight seem to be coming up to Preakness Day exactly "right," which means any of them could win. Yes, even Top Knight, who did not run the race of which he is capable at Churchill Downs. It might have been his five-week layoff after the Florida Derby, or something more serious like leg trouble. Still, it is worth recalling that after Top Knight ran "short" in last winter's Everglades, he came back brilliantly to win the Flamingo and Florida Derby.
Arts and Letters, now a four-time loser (each time, second) in his last five races, may not have it in him to be a classic winner, but one can never eliminate a genuine fighter from consideration. He fought Majestic Prince all the way down the long stretch in the Derby and then lost by only a neck. Braulio Baeza will be on his second ride and will know more about him and the opposition than he did in Louisville. But that small edge may not be enough.
As for Majestic Prince, who is now eight-for-eight, how can he be faulted? Or Johnny Longden or Bill Hartack? The big, durable chestnut has run six times since early January and won all but the Derby by four lengths or more. Longden indicated his fitness by asking nothing strenuous of him in his first post-Derby week. Johnny also raised a few eyebrows at Pimlico when he announced he was sending for California blacksmith Bill Bane to shoe Majestic Prince this, week. Bane is a specialist in repairing quarter cracks, with his invention known as the Bane Patch.
Those who still do not believe Majestic Prince is the best colt point out that the Pimlico strip is sandier than Churchill Downs, and not as fast, and therefore very different from California surfaces. Never mind that. He has won on strips labeled fast, sloppy, muddy and good. It probably will not snow, hail or sleet at Pimlico this Saturday but outlandish conditions would not bother him, either.