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Having survived the unholy bedlam at the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby, the 3-year-olds move this Saturday to Pimlico in Baltimore for phase two of the Triple Crown. Since this is only the 99th running of the Preakness, we may be able to settle for fewer people, fewer horses and a little less excitement. For instance, the question of splitting the field—practically a national crisis before the Derby—has already been answered by Pimlico's pragmatic Chick Lang. If more than 15 horses enter, Lang said, the Preakness will be split into two races, each with $150,000 added. This gave rise to obvious quips: if Cannonade, the Kentucky Derby winner, finishes first in his division of the Preakness, will that mean he has a leg and a half on the Triple Crown?
As the days to post time dwindled, the chance of twin Preaknesses remained strong. Eight of the Derby field, including Cannonade, Hudson County, who finished a strong second, J. R.'s Pet (4th), Little Current (5th), Destroyer (6th) and Buck's Bid (7th) were expected to be on hand, as were Rube the Great, an unimpressive 10th at Louisville, and Sharp Gary (13th). Agitate, third in the Derby, has been returned to California, while the favored Judger, who was bounced around in the heavy traffic and ended up a disappointing eighth, will cool it a bit after his rough time in Kentucky and will wait for the Jersey Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
Joining the Derby-tested horses at Pimlico are several others whose owners hope to pull off a surprise. It has happened before in the Preakness. Non-Derby starter Greek Money upset favored Ridan and Derby winner Decidedly in 1962, and two years ago Riva Ridge, who won both the Derby and the Belmont, was a beaten fourth behind Bee Bee Bee. Del Carroll, who trained Bee Bee Bee, has a possible starter in Better Arbitor, another son of Better Bee. The veteran Downey Bonsai hoped to send out Bushongo, who beat both Cannonade and Judger in the Flamingo but pulled up lame in the pre-Derby Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. However, it would have taken a super achievement to bring Bushongo back to a peak so soon, and after an unimpressive work he was withdrawn.
A colt who will run is Heir to the Line, who won the mile-and-a-sixteenth Preakness Prep at Pimlico last Saturday. Heir to the Line is a son of Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince, out of a Bold Ruler mare named Borderline. This was Heir to the Line's fourth victory in five starts this year, and he could becoming into his own. Having the feel of the track won't hurt, either. The astute Kenny Noe, racing secretary in New York, says, "I can't get away from the feeling that a race over the track at Pimlico helps a lot before going into a major stakes like the Preakness." If that is so, keep an eye on All Game, second in the Preakness Prep ahead of Jolly Johu and Bold and Fancy. Five of All Game's 10 races have been at Pimlico. And remember that Cannonade, who won each of his three efforts at Churchill Downs, will be making his first start on the Baltimore track.
Says Skip Shapoff, trainer of Hudson County, who has not run at Pimlico, either, "There probably is an advantage in having a race over any track, Pimlico included, but with a colt like Hudson County, who runs well on all tracks, it may not be important. I'll tell you this: if Cannonade does not run back to his Derby form and we do, Hudson County will be tough to beat. He's quick and shifty, always runs gamely and has never been out of the money."
Nonetheless, there is no reason to believe that Cannonade won't go off the favorite, and he is a deserving one. His trainer, Woody Stephens, thinking about a divided race, says, "Cannonade showed what he could do in the biggest of all Derby fields, but if it's a split race—well, if you think you've got the best horse, you want the smallest field possible, and Cannonade is coming up to this one like a tiger. He's ready again."
That should be enough to win at least half of the 99th Preakness, if not the whole thing.