At the post-position draw for the 117th Preakness yesterday, everything that could go wrong went wrong -- especially for Dance Floor.
The speed horses, Alydeed and Speakerphone, drew outside, instead of inside, posts.
But it was Dance Floor, the horse owned by the family of rap star Hammer, who took the heaviest dose of bad luck. The colt drew the poorest gate -- 14 out of 14 in the first full field to start in the race since 1970.
"It isn't funny," Hammer said. "Four races and four bad spots. I see no humor in this."
Hammer's brother, Louis Burrell Jr., said he saw other forces at work in the post draw.
"I don't trust the system," Burrell, also one of the owners of Hammer's Oaktown Stable, was quoted by the New York Daily News. "I'll always think hanky-panky is going on until they change the system. After four of these, wouldn't you think this way? I'm fed up with racing. We shouldn't have even come here."
When asked why anyone would bother to fix the draw, Burrell replied:
"Don't ask me a silly question like that. It's for the same reason Jackie Robinson wasn't in the major leagues for so long."
Lewis Burrell Sr., Hammer's father, said of Louis Jr.'s comments: "My feeling is that we've had four races where we were unfortunate, where the post positions were unfavorable. He [Louis Jr.] was angry, hurt and disappointed. Sometimes, he says things off the top of his head. . . . When you're mad, you say things that sometimes you wouldn't say again.
"I'm not saying it was hanky-panky. . . . We are the only African-American stable racing on a major level," Burrell Sr. said last night. "If you're shooting dice and four times you're rolling snake eyes, you check the dice. It puts things in your mind.
"I'm not apologizing for my son, because that must have been the way he felt. Maybe he would've worded it differently if he thought more about it. I'm sorry he said those things. We don't want to make enemies."
Louis Jr. was in Washington last night at Hammer's concert and was unavailable for further comment.
The other three poor posts Hammer referred to were Post 16 out of 18 horses in the Kentucky Derby, the 11 post position Dance Floor drew in the March 14 Florida Derby and the 6 post in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course on April 11, though the latter position was in the middle of the field.
Before those races, Dance Floor drew No. 1 spots in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Hollywood Futurity.
Joe De Francis, operator of Pimlico, said: "It's unlucky for them. I feel bad about it, and I sympathize with the Burrells. But this is something that is all done randomly."
D. Wayne Lukas, Dance Floor's trainer, took little solace in that. "I don't like it," he said after the draw. "Let's do it all over again. I can't make a positive out of that big a negative. It changes our strategy, our luck and the pace of the race.
"Given the nature of our horse and his style of running, this hurt us as much as it can hurt anybody. If he was a late runner, it would be OK. We might have to change his style to be effective, and I don't know if we can do that or not."
There was no thought of scratching the horse, however.
"We'd run if we had the 20th hole," Burrell Sr. said.
No horse has won the Preakness from the 14th post position, although the race usually includes fewer runners.
The drawing was done by Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld and general manager John Nash.
Unseld shook a bottle that contained 14 pills, coinciding with the number of horses in the race. Unseld would pull out a pill with a number on it, and then Nash, with the help of Larry Abbundi, Pimlico's director of racing, would pull cards placed randomly in a rack. The cards were placed so that neither Nash nor Abbundi could read them. The horse named on the card received the post position listed on the pill.
"We were unlucky, but I know from participating in drawings that I know the system," Lewis Burrell Sr. said. "I'm not out to change the system, but maybe the horse should be posted first instead of the number."
Roger Attfield, who trains Alydeed, said before the draw that he didn't want to be any farther out than Gate 8.
Attfield said later it's not what he hoped for, "But that's what we got. That's what we have to go with, and that's all."
About the only ones happy with their post draws were Lynn Whiting, trainer of Derby winner Lil E. Tee, and Shelley Riley, trainer of Casual Lies, the Derby runner-up.
Lil E. Tee drew Post 9. "I wouldn't want to be any farther out," Whiting said. "But the speed is on the outside, and that's good for us. I'm sure Wayne [Lukas] will make some use of Big Sur [Lukas' other runner besides Dance Floor]. Big Sur has got some speed. It's going to be a hotly contested pace."
Casual Lies drew the 8 hole, which delighted Riley.
"I would have been happy to be from 2 out to 7, but I drew 8, so that's fine," Riley said. "This is a wide-open, contentious race. That's what you want, a gut wrencher with an exciting finish. You don't want something like Arazi winning the Kentucky Derby by 20 lengths, which was predicted, but never happened."
Riley said she thought Lukas shouldn't be too upset with the 14 post.
"Dance Floor has cruise control and power steering," Riley said. "He should be able to settle in behind the speed [Speakerphone and Alydeed and possibly others], and then run when he's asked."
Trainers prefer speed horses to break from the inside. On the outside, they have to be used early to gain a position on the rail and then might not have enough energy left for the finish.
Trainer Sonny Hine drew an inside post with Technology, and that didn't make him happy. It's the same spot Technology drew in the Kentucky Derby. The horse rushed the gate twice and broke poorly at Churchill Downs after it took a long time for the other horses to load.
"I'm going to be close up," Hine predicted. "They'd better be running when they go into the first turn, I can tell you that, because we're not going to be back there taking back this time. If we die, we'll die on the pace. It'll be an honest pace, I promise you that."
Hine spent part of the day with veterinarian William Santoro, who is looking after Technology. The horse grabbed a quarter (cut a front foot when he overreached with a hind foot) during training. The horse's right front foot was put in an ice tub and then bandaged.
"Hopefully, he'll be fine," Hine said.
Dance Floor's posts
Dance Floor's four most recent post-position draws:
Race. . .. .... ..... PP (No. in race). .. . .. . Fin.
Fla. Derby. . . ...... 11 (12). ... ...... ...........2
Blue Grass. .. . ...... 6 (11). . . . ............... 4
Ky. Derby. . . ........16 (18). . . ...... .......... 3
Preakness. . . ....... 14 (14). .. ....................