For Bill Donovan, Preakness Day begins before dawn, while a thick fog cover still hangs over Pimlico Race Course and a light, steady mist falls from ashen skies.
Donovan, up at 4:30 a.m., gets bad news as he drives on to the Pimlico grounds a few minutes after 5. The track will be closed to morning workouts because of the rain that has fallen overnight.
It is bad news because Donovan trains Dash For Dotty, a 3-year-old gelding who is to run in the 117th Preakness later in the day. He wanted the horse to work out in the morning, though, "because he's a bleeder and you're always anxious to keep him moving."
It is the first time Donovan can ever remember the track being closed on Preakness morning. "I just laughed," he says. "What else can you do?"
Aside from this development, though, there is little for Donovan to quibble about.
There is no tension -- or pretension -- in Barn Q, Donovan's stable at Pimlico. This is where Dash For Dotty will wait to race, in his own stall, away from the crowds. Pressure is over at Barn E, the Stakes Barn, where the likes of Lil E. Tee, Alydeed and Casual Lies draw all the attention.
Less pressure at Barn Q?
"Absolutely," says Donovan. "We don't get hassled by the press over here. They don't come and camp out here. There's a lot less pressure."
This, then, is how the day unfolds in Barn Q for Dash For Dotty.
7:15 a.m. -- Pat Donovan, Bill's son, walks Dash For Dotty around shed row to keep him moving. Bill Donovan leans on the fender of his Chevy wagon and talks about Friday's third-place finish by Diamond Duo, his filly, in the Black- Eyed Susan. "She bled," he says. "On a scale of 1-to-10, she bled 8. A tough thing. She only lost by two lengths."
7:46 -- Jeff Warehime, the groom, bathes Dash For Dotty.
8:04 -- Pat Donovan begins a 25-minute cool down and walks Dash For Dotty around shed row again. Bill Donovan greets a radio reporter and tells why he is running a 30-to-1 long shot in a classic. The owner is Henry Rosenberg Jr., chief operating officer of Crown Central Petroleum. "There are easier places to run a horse than the Preakness," Donovan says. "Mr. Rosenberg is proud of his horse and rightly so. He wanted to showcase him."
8:27 -- Warehime runs cold water over Dash For Dotty's front legs to help circulation. As many as a dozen passers-by stop to watch. "What's his name?" asks one woman. "Maybe he'll make me some money today." Another woman, in a group of three, passes and says, "Well, now we've seen a horse at least."
8:41 -- Donovan talks about what he hopes for in the race. "There's a tremendous amount of speed in the race," he says. "With all that speed on the outside, I look for a terrific speed race to develop between Alydeed, Speakerphone and Dance Floor. Hopefully the speed will start to ease by the last quarter or so, and old Dotty will be running good by then."
8:50 -- Told that the track is muddy, Donovan says, "The muddier, the better for my horse. He loves the mud."
8:51 -- Dash For Dotty is back in stall 9, eating a quart of Sweet Rely, one of 16 to 18 quarts of the feed he will eat in a day. Even in Barn Q, removed from the buzz of Barn E, Dash For Dotty seems to sense something special about to happen. "He knows what's happening," Warehime says. The horse will stay in his stall until it's time to run.
9:23 -- Over at Barn E, Shelley Riley, the owner of Casual Lies, does a TV interview and talks about which horses might finish second behind her horse.
9:31 -- Jockey Tommy Turner pats Dash For Dotty in his stall and says, "Give me what you're got, give me everything you've got." Turner, a veteran of more than 5,000 races, is riding in his first Preakness. "I've got to go in like it's any race on any other day," Turner says. Fifteen feet away, his girlfriend overhears the remark and snickers. Turner says the outside speed may work to his advantage. "Maybe they'll all burn each other out," he says hopefully. "My horse is a closer. He does have some speed, but I don't want to use it today."
12:05 -- Dash For Dotty gets his black mane braided.
12:40 -- Pressure or no at Barn Q, Dash For Dotty becomes excited and frisky as a group of people file past to see the local horse in the Preakness. Donovan is not happy with this development, either.
1:15 -- Warehime politely asks visitors to the stall not to linger.
2:19 -- Dash For Dotty gets 3 cc's of Lasix.
4:53 -- Dash For Dotty leaves Barn Q for the saddling paddock.
5:34 -- Finally, the race. Dash For Dotty drops to the rear moving into the clubhouse turn and runs last in the backstretch. He starts passing horses at the far turn and finishes strong in eighth, a length and a quarter behind Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee. "He was flying at the end," Pat Donovan says during the cool down. "I thought he ran very well, very respectable. The best part was he came out of the race in very good shape."
"I was thrilled to death," Bill Donovan said. "I thought my horse closed a world of ground. . . . He beat a whole lot of nice horses. He was dead last and he started running at the three-eighths pole and he was closing. When they got to the sixteenth pole, I thought he was going to be in the money. He made a tremendous run. I'm tickled to death."