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Past performances told Lukas that Lil E. Tee was in trouble


On the morning after the Preakness, shortly after dawn, trainer D. Wayne Lukas -- naturally -- was at the Pimlico stakes barn, giving the most eloquent post-mortem.

Lukas even had a surprise unsung hero for the 117th running of the race.

Lukas, whose Dance Floor and Big Sur ran fourth and 11th, respectively, to victorious Pine Bluff on Saturday, is the most successful trainer in racing history.

He has led the nation's trainers in earnings for nine straight years. In his 12 years in the thoroughbred business, Lukas has trained the winners of more than $125 million.

"No, I wasn't surprised that Pine Bluff won the Preakness," Lukas was saying. "He's beaten the Kentucky Derby winner [Lil E. Tee] three times out of four now.

"Why didn't Pine Bluff beat him in the Derby? It just wasn't to be, that's all."

Lukas said the biggest surprise to him was an element that's seldom mentioned -- the betting public.

"That's the one thing that surprised me about this race," Lukas said, "that the public made Pine Bluff the 7-2 favorite.

'Usually the public is caught up in the Derby winner or, this year, the hype over Alydeed [who ran second]. But these people here were too smart for that. You've got to take your hat off to them."

What made the Maryland bettors so smart?

That seemed a good question for Joe Hirsch, the highly regarded veteran columnist for the Daily Racing Form. Hirsch, at Friday's Alibi Breakfast, was presented with the Maryland Jockey Club's Special Award of Merit for "contributions to racing in Maryland and beyond."

And yesterday morning Hirsch, always one of the first to arrive at the track, had a ready answer.

"It's because they've been betting horses in Maryland for a long time," Hirsch said. "There are a lot of great racing people here."

One man who spent many years training in Maryland and saddled a horse in the Derby and Preakness is 60-year-old Sonny Hine. His Technology finished sixth Saturday amid reports he would be hindered by a cut leg.

"No, he's fine, look at him grazing over there," Hine said yesterday morning. "The only thing wrong with us was the post position. Too many horses. Fourteen.

"I got the death trap -- the No. 2 -- in both races [Derby and Preakness] and we got bad trips both times. If we'd had a clear shot, we'd have been on the board both times.

"As it is, we won nothing -- and it's getting expensive to run in these races. With entering the horse, flying him, paying expenses for the crew, the rental cars and what not, I figure running these two cost $90,000."

Lukas, with his sunglasses, his Ralph Lauren look and his bankbook, may strike some as self-absorbed. He's not. He showed that yesterday with something he said about Hine.

"I like the intimacy here at Pimlico," Lukas said. "They put all of us in the same barn and for the whole week we see each other. We watch each other work.

"Before this, I knew Sonny Hine to walk by. But this week we developed a friendship. He came by this morning and we talked about some things. If it hadn't been for the Preakness, I'd never have known him."

Another star of the thoroughbred racing world who started in Maryland, jockey Chris McCarron, rode the Preakness winner. McCarron, as polite a young man as you're likely to meet, was asked why Pine Bluff had finished fifth in the Derby (with Craig Perret aboard).

McCarron, who also rode Alysheba to victory in the '87 Preakness, said simply: "He just didn't run his race in the Derby."

Some of the Preakness trainers complained that the wet sand from the Pimlico surface got in the eyes of their horses. Some -- like Shelley Riley, whose Casual Lies ran a strong third -- had to flush out the sand after the race.

"We lost because it was not a good racetrack," Shelley said. "It wasn't Pimlico's fault. The sun just didn't come out.

"We all ran on the same track, though. We all know that some horses like that stuff and some don't. When Pine Bluff went by us, he was handling it just fine."

Riley will ship Casual Lies to New York tomorrow for the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 6.

Riley, who bought Casual Lies as a yearling for a mere $7,500 -- and turned down $2.4 million for him before the Derby -- has a chance to win the $1 million Triple Crown Challenge.

The money goes to the horse that wins the most points in the series. Having finished second in the Derby and third here, Casual Lies has eight points. Only Pine Bluff and Lil E. Tee, with 10 apiece, have more.

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