They both returned home yesterday to New York, north o I-95, up the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington Bridge, through the gates of Belmont Park. One came back a hero. Another came back an enigma.
Prairie Bayou's sturdiness and steadiness paid off in victory in Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico, while Sea Hero's erratic nature cost him. For each of these two New York-based horses, there will be one more chance in this 1993 Triple Crown series, the June 5 Belmont Stakes. Prairie Bayou will be after the $1 million bonus for best overall performance in the Triple Crown; Sea Hero will be after revenge.
"I'll be confident about the Belmont. I'm pretty confident every time I run him," said Prairie Bayou trainer Tom Bohannan, who also won the 1992 Preakness with Pine Bluff. "People were asking me before the Derby, and even before the Blue Grass, if he had done too much and was about to go the other way. He's honest and has been able to maintain a level and his condition. His record speaks for itself."
Bohannan really doesn't have much to worry about. It sometimes seems that Prairie Bayou will never run a bad race and his victory Saturday was convincing enough to suggest he should be a strong favorite in the Belmont.
As for Mack Miller, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, it's not nearly as simple. His colt has been brilliant on two occasions, the 1992 Champagne and the Kentucky Derby, and ordinary on several others. In his fifth-place Preakness finish, he never threatened and was not the same horse who won the Derby.
"I just believe the track defeated him," Miller said yesterday. "I just can't figure it out. He was very uncomfortable the whole trip. When you run races 55 minutes apart and have very low humidity and a beautiful breeze, the track dries out. You've got to put water on it. Some horses aren't bothered by that, but it sure bothers him."
Many of the Triple Crown horses will scatter in various directions across the country, with a handful destined for Belmont Park. One who won't be making that trip is Personal Hope, who came back bleeding after his fourth-place finish in the Preakness.
"We'll give his lungs time to get healthy and use common sense and not rush into anything," trainer Mark Hennig said. "He's a big strong horse who'll bounce back quickly, but there's a lot of opportunities later on this summer."
From the Preakness field, runner-up Cherokee Run and third-place finisher El Bakan are the only others currently considered definite Belmont starters. Woods of Windsor (sixth) and Wild Gale (eighth) are possible starters. Rockamundo, Hegar, Koluctoo Jimmy Al and Too Wild, who also bled, will be pointed for easier spots. Union City was humanely destroyed.