About 9 a.m. yesterday, the Pimlico racing department received an unexpected phone call.
Not just any horse, but a thoroughbred literally named after the gods. Hegar, or "God of Thunder," is out of the mare, Opera Diva. The horse's name is as theatrical as Lewis' dramatic last-minute entry.
"I've known Penny a long time, and she's always full of surprises," said Lenny Hale, Pimlico/Laurel's vice president of racing.
The addition of Hegar at the 10 a.m. official entry time brought the list of starters for tomorrow's Preakness to an even dozen.
"The suddenness of the decision makes it seem like a really rash move," Lewis said in a telephone interview from her home in Weston, which is near Fort Lauderdale. "But I've been thinking about it for a week, ever since he won the Everglades Stakes [last Saturday at Hialeah].
"I know it seems like a short time to run him back. But everyone in the race is wishing for something. Sea Hero wishes he could run on Lasix. Rockamundo wishes he didn't have a throat operation. I'd like to have a few more days between races. But the horse came out of his last race fantastic. This is the chance of a lifetime."
Hegar is owned by Jim and Joann Jundt of Minneapolis. Lewis met the Jundts when she moved her racing stable in the mid-1980s to Canterbury Downs, the now-bankrupt track in Minneapolis. Jundt is in the investment business and was in Washington yesterday when the Preakness decision was made.
"I just found out this morning [yesterday] and I'm excited. I've only owned horses for three years and it's always been a goal to have a horse in one of the three great races," Jundt said. "We had reservations about coming to Baltimore, but he has won three of his last four races and seems to be very sound."
Hegar will be ridden in the Preakness by Jose Ferrer, the leading jockey at Hialeah.
Lewis is the former wife of Maryland horseman James F. Lewis. The Lewises once owned Lewisfield Farm in Hydes and raised three children -- Brigette, Jimmy and Lisa -- there.
Lisa Lewis now has her own string of horses at the New York tracks and started off with Hegar last summer. "He won his first race at Saratoga and then bucked a shin when he finished fifth in the Saratoga Special," Penny Lewis said. "When Hegar came back in the fall, it was determined he might need Lasix. Since Lisa decided to stay in New York last winter, she shipped the horse to Nick Zito in Florida."
When Zito made his trek back up north, Penny Lewis took out her trainer's license and moved Hegar over to her barn at Hialeah.
The horse left on a van from Miami at 6 last evening and is due to arrive at Pimlico at noon today.
Pimlico management was so surprised by the addition of Hegar, they didn't have a name plate made up for him at the post position draw.
"We had to scramble around and dug up the one used for Hansel," said track operator Joe De Francis. Hegar drew the No. 4 post position, the same one Hansel drew when he won in 1991.
Other horsemen weren't as lucky. The speed horses either drew the inside posts or the extreme outside posts and ruined almost everyone's Preakness plans.
Trainer Mark Hennig has been trying to get Personal Hope to relax. But he drew the 1 hole and almost certainly has to send his horse early. El Bakan is next in the 2 post and probably will try to force the pace from the start. The other two speed horses, Koluctoo Jimmy Al and Cherokee Run, drew posts 11 and 12, respectively. Those horses could be used up early vying for position.
"I couldn't believe it when I drew that post," said Koluctoo Jimmy Al's trainer, Bruce Levine. Only one horse has ever won the Preakness from the 11-hole.
Expected favorite, Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, drew the 9 gate. Only two horses have won Preakness from that post.
In a surprise move, track odds-maker Mark Johnson made Kentucky Derby runner-up Prairie Bayou the Preakness early-line favorite. "I like Prairie Bayou and I don't like the fact Sea Hero is coming off Lasix," Johnson said.