The media darling among the Preakness trainers at Pimlico this year is neither D. Wayne Lukas nor Kentucky Derby-winning Lynn Whiting nor Leroy Jolley nor Nick Zito, who won the Pimlico Special last week.
It's Shelley Riley.
That's right -- a woman trainer is drawing the biggest crowds at the stakes barn.
In its previous 116 runnings, the Preakness has had only three women trainers. This year there are two. Besides Riley, who trains and owns Casual Lies, there is Dean Gaudet, who trains Speakerphone.
Riley, a Californian who has been training horses for 17 years, is the antithesis of Gaudet. Gaudet says nothing. Riley is effervescent and voluble, one reason the press loves her.
Another is that Casual Lies is a rags-to-riches story, a colt bought originally for $7,500 by Shelley and her husband, Jim. Casual Lies ran second in the Kentucky Derby.
"We're not supposed to be here," says Shelley. "There are supposed to be safeguards against us."
In 10 starts, Casual Lies has won five times, finished second once and third twice and earned $590,628. The Rileys already have turned down a $2 million offer for the horse.
"He loves this racetrack," says Shelley. "Whenever I get worried or begin to have doubts, I just look at this beautiful animal. You can look at him and see how confident he is."
* Racing people are the most philosophical in sports. They have to be because of the nature of their game. Even among them, Bob Holthus stands out.
Holthus, who is training Potentiality for the $150,000-added Maryland Budweiser Breeders' Cup sprint on the Preakness card, has been training horses since 1952.
Actually, he's been around the sport all his 57 years. The year before he was born his father bought a racehorse. Still, Holthus looks forward to coming to the track every morning.
"Very few people get to do what they want to do," Holthus says.
There's a more urgent reason for him to appreciate each day. He has a heart condition that requires him to wear a 2 1/2 -pound battery that has been surgically inserted under his ribs. It's called a defibrillator.
"Whenever my heart starts fibrillating," Holthus says, "the battery shocks it automatically and restores a regular heartbeat."
Holthus sounds as if he's lecturing at a medical school when he explains the defibrillator.
"They've only been putting them in for three years," he says. "There are 20,000 people with them now. A year from now there'll be 100,000. Only 12 doctors in the world have performed the operation.
"They say my heart has stopped more than once to where I was legally dead. When you die two or three times and they bring you back, it makes you appreciate every day."
Holthus says Potentiality is "a good sprinter" who has a good chance Saturday. The colt did an eye-popping :44 4/5 in a half-mile workout Tuesday.
If Potentiality doesn't win, you won't see Holthus throwing any tantrums. At this point he's too philosophical for that.
"This business," says the Arkansan, "is the only one in the world vTC where, if you're going good, if you're really rolling, you're still losing 80 percent of the time."
* Tonya Goss is one of the guides taking racing fans on "up close" tours of the Pimlico backstretch and stakes barn every morning this week from 6 to 9 a.m. She wonders about one of her tourists, though.
"Every year, this one old lady comes," Goss says. "She's here every day and she takes every tour. The only thing I can figure is she must be lonely."
Or, as Holthus said, "Maybe her doctor told her to do a lot of walking."
* Trainer Sonny Hine, who will saddle Technology in the Preakness, is crazy about bananas. In fact, he has a banana dependency.
Every time Hine leaves the hospitality room at the stakes barn he takes with him a banana or two.
"If I don't eat any bananas for two or three days," Hine says, "my legs cramp up on me in bed at night.
"I asked my doctor about it. He said not to worry unless I start climbing trees and scratching in public."
* Nick Zito, who trained winner Strike the Gold in the Pimlico Special and has Agincourt in the Preakness, is thankful for small courtesies -- like the hospitality room that dispenses fruit, coffee and pastries.
"In New York," says Zito, speaking of his hometown, "they give you nothing. Up there you get all the barbed wire you can chew."
* One thing that's in expert hands for the 117th Preakness is the music. Supplying that for the 30th time will be the 150-member volunteer Baltimore Colt Band. Directing the band when it plays "Maryland My Maryland" during the post parade will, as usual, be Craig Harvey.
John Ziemann, band historian and bass drummer, credits Harvey for the group's present excellence. Says Ziemann: "Craig is a combination musical genius and disciplinarian. He's the Vince Lombardi of music."