The horses that weren't coming to Pimlico for Preakness vTC Week -- Lil E. Tee, Jovial and Paseana -- dominated the news last week.
But during the next six-day period quite an array of horseflesh -- about 100 horses in all -- will compete in 11 stakes at Pimlico.
Grass filly You'd Be Surprised is accompanying her famous stablemate, Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, to Pimlico and will carry Paul Mellon's gray-and-yellow silks in the Gallorette Handicap, a race that was won twice by Searching, Sea Hero's third dam.
There is a stakes race each day during the Preakness Festival period, ranging from small overnight stakes such as Tuesday's Bald Eagle, which drew 41 nominations, to the newly relocated Gallorette Handicap on Thursday to the super five-stakes lineup on Preakness Day, which includes two Grade I events.
This might be a record of sorts, but it shows the effort that Pimlico/Laurel executives Joe De Francis, Lenny Hale, Tim Capps and Tommy Baker are making to beef up the quality of the live cards.
Among the highlights:
* A possible rematch between Team Valor's Lady Blessington and You'd Be Surprised in the Gallorette Handicap. They finished 1-2, respectively, in the Capitol Holding Mile 10 days ago at Churchill Downs.
"The Gallorette is run Thursday, the same day as the Preakness [post-position] draw. A lot of people with a top 3 year old also will have a good grass filly or mare and we hope they bring it along to Pimlico with their Preakness horse," Hale said. "This is a day when the press starts to converge on the track and it seemed like a good time to showcase one of our oldest stakes."
* The appearance of Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lure in the Early Times Dixie Handicap on Friday. The horse won the Early Times Classic at Churchill Downs in record time and is seeking a sweep of the Early Times Turf Triple.
* Aztec Hill's attempt to return to her Grade I Fantasy Stakes form in the Black-Eyed Susan, also on Friday. McGaughey tries
his Kentucky Oaks win with Dispute by running another filly, Private Lights, in the Black-Eyed Susan. Local fillies Jacody and Broad Gains will get a chance to see how they stack up against quality out-of-town stock.
* The Pimlico Special-Preakness double on Saturday is a made-for-TV event. As well as the name horses running in those races, runners such as Senor Speedy, Sunny Sunrise, Sand Lizard, Timely Warning, Majesty's Turn, Callide Valley, Ameri Valay and a group of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time 3 year olds start in the Sir Barton Stakes, all on the Preakness undercard.
"We're delighted with the response horsemen are giving us for these races," Hale said.
Life of Riley
Shelley Riley, the small-time trainer with the glib tongue and a horse named Casual Lies, is returning to Pimlico for the Preakness.
She's not bringing a horse, but she's bound to liven up festivities.
"I'm coming in Wednesday night and will be at the post draw on Thursday," Riley said.
Last year Riley was the talk of the Triple Crown series when her horse was second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness, but missed the $1 million Triple Crown bonus when he finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes.
"Stanley [Casual Lies' nickname] is about a month away from making a comeback. He's gotten a good, long rest, the kind I should have given him after the Triple Crown," Riley said.
In addition to training her small four-horse string, Riley has been writing a travelogue about her Triple Crown experiences.
"I see it as a coffee-table book, selling for about $95 a copy," she quipped.
Riley said she loved seeing "those two nice gentlemen [Mellon and Mack Miller]" win the Kentucky Derby.
"It wasn't just another rich man winning a rich race," Riley said. "Mr. Mellon has certainly paid his dues. Seeing him win made me feel good."
Despite rumors at Pimlico last week, the track has no plans to go to a six-day race week this summer. "We simply don't have the horses to do it," said DeFrancis, who added that he had given some thought to running on Wednesdays, which are now dark. . . . Six steeplechases will be run at Laurel Race Course when the track reopens in mid-June. Two will be run on each of these days: June 12, 13 and 20. . . . Who is the longest-priced winner of the Preakness? Master Derby. He paid $48.80 in 1975. . . . Twenty-five winning horses have led every step of the way in the Preakness, the last Aloma's Ruler in 1982. The speed horses this year are Koluctoo Jimmy Al, Personal Hope and Cherokee Run.