In a memorable stretch duel in the 119th Preakness Stakes, Tabasco Cat defeated Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin by three-quarters of a length yesterday and reversed the misfortunes of the D. Wayne Lukas stable. Five months ago, Tabasco Cat trampled and nearly killed Lukas' 36-year-old son, Jeff.
"Before the Derby, I dreamt Jeff hugged me," said Nick Zito, trainer of Go For Gin. "Maybe he hugged his dad this time."
It was the third Preakness victory for Lukas in 16 starts and the third for jockey Pat Day in nine Preakness rides. It also was Lukas' first victory in a Grade I race since he won the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 18, 1991.
In the 1 minute, 56 2/5 seconds that it took Tabasco Cat to win the Preakness, Lukas went from victim to victor.
One year ago, Lukas ran Union City in the Preakness and watched when the horse broke his leg on the backstretch and later was humanely destroyed.
Lukas was criticized for running what some people considered an unsound horse, and the experience left the 58-year-old trainer bitter.
Yesterday, Lukas said his thoughts were with his son.
"I know he's watching and he's a special guy. I just don't know how to express what this means. . . . We're not going to worry about last year. I had problems, so be it. We're here to win races. We try to do a good job. We're not gonna dwell on what happened [last year]. Unfortunately that happened and it's not going to be the last time it happens in a Triple Crown race."
William T. Young, owner of Union City and part owner with David P. Reynolds of Tabasco Cat, said: "It's such a dramatic change from last year. This has to be the greatest thrill. I'm trying to grope for the right adjectives. We were so depressed last year. We haven't come 180 degrees. We've come 360 degrees."
Tabasco Cat went off the third choice at 3.60-1 odds behind favored Go For Gin. Blumin Affair, who finished sixth in the 10-horse field, was the 3.10-1 second choice.
The winner paid $9.20, $4.60, $4.60. Finishing second, Go For Gin returned $4.60 and $4.40, and Maryland entry Concern paid $6.40 to show.
Day described his ride on Tabasco Cat yesterday as "the picture-perfect trip."
At the Kentucky Derby, where Tabasco Cat finished sixth, the horse sat down in the gate not once, but twice, and then got off awkwardly after being bumped by eventual winner, Go For Gin, after the start.
But yesterday "the horse was just so composed in the saddling area and the post parade and in the gate," Day said. "He stood perfect and everything went absolutely right."
Tabasco Cat broke sharply from the one-hole and Day kept him tight on the rail while Polar Expedition, coming out of the No. 8. post, quickly sprinted to the lead.
Expected pacesetter Silver Goblin got off slowly after hitting the side of the starting gate.
He was not the only horse that had problems at the gate.
Numerous, the fourth choice at 9.10-1 odds, was on the extreme outside. He made a right-hand turn leaving the gate and lost valuable ground until he was straightened out.
"No wonder no son of a gun wins from out there," said trainer Charlie Whittingham after the race. "He made a right turn just as he broke."
After failing to break on top, Silver Goblin ran up into third, right behind Go For Gin, who was on the outside of front-runner Polar Expedition.
Tabasco Cat settled into fourth going into the first turn.
"I just followed Polar Expedition," Day said.
The pace was unexpectedly slow, the horse traveling the first quarter in 23 3/5 seconds and the initial half-mile in 47 2/5 seconds.
"It looked like we were going to get this freaky fast pace, and we didn't," said Dick Small, trainer of the entry of Concern, who finished third, and Looming, who ended up seventh.
Midway into the backstretch, Go For Gin took over the lead from Polar Expedition, who began to falter.
Chris McCarron kept Go For Gin in front until he was joined at the top of the stretch by Tabasco Cat.
"When Polar Expedition gave up about the three-eighths pole, I eased around him and then split horses going by him and Silver Goblin on the turn," Day said. "It helped that Silver Goblin also gave up about this time."
The race started in earnest when the two horses hooked up in the stretch drive.
"I thought I had Go For Gin anytime I wanted him," Day said. "I waited until down inside the eighth pole, put him to his task, and he just came home beautifully."
McCarron said he had no excuses. "I was hoping he [Go For Gin] had another gear. But he didn't. I couldn't ask for a better trip. The only disappointment was the end. He just got outrun from the eighth pole to the wire."
Tabasco Cat is owned in equal partnership by Young, who lives in Lexington, Ky., and David Reynolds, the retired chairman of Reynolds Metals. Reynolds is a longtime Maryland horse owner. He stood the stallion, Be Somebody, his first stakes winner, in Maryland for many years and keeps the bulk of his breeding stock at Worthington Farms in Glyndon. He syndicated the Maryland stallion, Lord Gaylord.
Worthington Farms is owned by Reynolds' niece, Glennie Martin, and her husband, J.W.Y. Martin Jr., president of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association.
Yesterday's Preakness broke attendance and handle records, a result that track operator Joe De Francis said left him "on cloud nine."
Total attendance at Pimlico and three off-track locations reached 99,834 and the handle on the Preakness live card, as well as in-state betting on out-of-state simulcasts, was $8.2 million.
"Including attendance at our off-track betting parlors, we cracked the 100,000 attendance mark for the Preakness," De Francis said. "and we also went over the $8 million betting mark for the first time."
LUKAS IN THE PREAKNESS
Year .. .. .. Horse .. .. .. .. .. Finish
1980 .. .. .. Codex .. .. .. .. .. 1st
1981 .. .. .. Partez .. ... .. ... 5th
1983 .. .. .. Marfa .. .. .. .. .. 4th
1985 .. .. .. Tank's Prospect .. .. 1st
1986 .. .. .. Clear Choice .. .. .. 7th
1986 .. .. .. Badger Land ... .. .. 4th
1987 .. .. .. Lookinforthebigone .. 7th
1988 .. .. .. Winning Colors .. ... 3rd
1989 .. .. .. Houston .. .. ... ... 6th
1990 .. .. .. Land Rush .. .. .. .. 6th
1990 .. .. .. Kentucky Jazz ... ... 7th
1991 .. .. .. Corporate Report ... 2nd
.. .. .. Big Sur ... .. .. .. 11th
1992 .. .. .. Dance Floor .. .. .. 4th
1993 .. .. .. Union City Broke down/destroyed
.. .. .. Tabasco Cat .. .. .. .. 1st