Best Pal again can't find right footing at Pimlico


The big horse fired, then fizzled.

Best Pal, a 3-5 favorite in the Pimlico Special betting, had his shot at a fifth straight victory yesterday, but the Pimlico curse caught him again.

"He didn't handle the racetrack," said trainer Gary Jones before making a hasty exit for a flight back to California.

It was the second consecutive time Best Pal has failed over this surface and the result confirmed Jones' pre-race fears that had led him to bring the horse to Baltimore early.

The last time the gelding was here, he finished a dull fifth to Hansel in the 1991 Preakness, beaten by 11 lengths. But his workouts for the Special had pleased Jones, who said before the race, "I don't have any excuses this time."

Best Pal broke from the gate alertly from the outside post and was in excellent position throughout under Kent Desormeaux, who has ridden him in six consecutive races.

He was lying third behind pacesetters Fly So Free and Ibero and began what had become a patented late move, gaining second from the fading Ibero as they entered the stretch.

But the rally ended there, as Strike the Gold and Twilight Agenda moved by to leave Best Pal fourth, his worst finish since a fourth last September in the Louisiana Derby.

"At the beginning, we were just galloping, going easy," said Desormeaux. "I don't think he liked the track. I don't think he has ever liked this kind of track.

"He looked like he was handling it, but it started to take its toll."

The track was rated sloppy after several days of rain, but was upgraded to good, then to fast after the fifth race. But it was obviously still heavier than Best Pal would have liked.

The winning streak has stretched from the San Fernando, Strub and Santa Anita handicaps in California to the Oaklawn in Arkansas.

Desormeaux had reassured Jones that the horse was OK on the surface after a satisfying workout last Sunday (six furlongs in 1 minute, 12 seconds).

"He's done everything I've asked him," Desormeaux said during the pre-race news conference.

Now, Best Pal will head home for a rest and to prepare for defense of his 1991 victory in the Pacific Classic at owner John Mabee's home track, Del Mar.

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