Owner feeling 'Thunder' after Derby victory

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Michael Tabor paced outside Barn 44 at Churchill Downs yesterday morning, portable phone in one hand, the other hand gesticulating wildly.

Tabor was on the phone to England, eager to get the results from the English 1,000 Guineas -- won by a daughter of Gulch named Harayir -- and still was pumped up from the day before, when his Gulch colt, Thunder Gulch at 24-1 odds, had won the Kentucky Derby.

Tabor's trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, already had held court with the press -- announcing that both Thunder Gulch and Timber Country, his one-three Derby finishers, respectively, are ready to run one-two in the Preakness, perhaps in different order. Serena's Song, the filly who set the Derby pace and finished 16th, will receive a substantial rest.

Lukas still seems fixated on the idea that Timber Country, insured for a reported $12 million, is his best horse.

"If Pat [Day, the jockey] gets loose at the top of the stretch . . ." he said, pausing. "If Timber Country is given a clear path, he is going to test this little horse," referring to the robust Derby winner as "this little horse."

Lukas already had gone to the airport, on his way to Belmont Park to saddle Country Cat in the Acorn Stakes, when two enormous white limousines deposited Tabor and a retinue of cronies, each with his own portable phone, at Lukas' barn. The British horse owner looks as if he employs his own Secret Service.

Tabor, 53, was once a track bookmaker in England and still makes his living playing the odds. But obviously, more than Saturday's bets have paid off. He now lives in Monte Carlo and operates the Arthur Prince chain of betting shops in Great Britain.

Tabor seemed to be still feeling the rush of Saturday's big score. He apparently couldn't care less about what Lukas or the press thinks of Thunder Gulch. He gets a big laugh that the media virtually ignored his colt and that Lukas refers to the animal as his third-stringer.

"It's just an opinion," Tabor said.

Tabor hired Lukas to do a job, and he did it. Putting jockey Gary Stevens on the horse made all the difference.

When Stevens came out of the 16th post position and dropped Thunder Gulch in on the rail, the field "parted like the Red Sea," Tabor said. The horse "was going so sweetly" on the backstretch, Tabor said, he knew then that he had a winner.

Now, it's on to Baltimore.

A field of nine to 10 starters appears likely to contest the Preakness, although the field is still fluid.

But it appears that the first three Derby finishers -- the Lukas pair plus runner-up Tejano Run -- in addition to Talkin Man and the three foreign horses -- Eltish and Citadeed from England and Japan's Ski Captain -- will run in the Preakness.

Maryland-bred Oliver's Twist and perhaps a few others await them.

Many of the Derby starters incurred injuries. Gary Lewis, trainer of fourth-place finisher Jumron, blamed everyone from Kato Kaelin to Jerry Bailey for his horse's loss.

Kaelin's security personnel, in the paddock with the O.J. Simpson trial celebrity while the Derby starters were being saddled, disturbed the horses, Lewis said. Then Bailey, riding Tejano Run, hit Jumron in the face with his whip nearing the finish. Lewis said he wanted to claim foul, but because of the "Quick Official" rule, which posts the payoffs as soon as possible after the finish, he didn't have time to do it.

Jumron "grabbed a quarter" -- sliced a hunk of his left front heel with one of his hind feet -- probably during the first eighth of a mile. The cut is deep, Lewis said, and will force the horse to miss the Preakness.

Afternoon Deelites has a sore throat, and that makes a Preakness run doubtful, said trainer Dick Mandella.

Nick Zito, trainer of Suave Prospect, the 11th-place finisher, criticized Julie Krone for taking his horse too wide on the first turn. "Let's just say I'm disappointed in Julie and not the horse," Zito said. He added that Suave Prospect came back tired and is doubtful for the Preakness. But Zito might have another entrant -- Lexington Stakes winner Star Standard.

Roger Attfield said Talkin Man fits the role of the Derby failure, such as Hansel and Pine Bluff, who flops in Louisville but comes back two weeks later to win the Preakness.

"He was running too close to a torrid pace and Mike [Smith, the jockey] said he was running geared down on the inside and never got a chance to ride him properly. As soon as I saw the time for the half-mile [45 4/5 seconds], I knew I was in trouble anyway," Attfield said. "When he hit the stretch and took the lead, I could not see him being able to withstand the stretch drive."

Attfield plans to ship Talkin Man to Pimlico either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Ken McPeek, who trains runner-up Tejano Run, said his horse returned with a scraped heel and didn't clean up his feed Saturday night. "But if he dives into his feed tub the next couple of days, we'll head to the Preakness," McPeek said. "I'll know for sure by the end of the week."

Bud Delp, trainer of Federico Tesio runner-up Western Echo, said last night that he definitely is skipping the Preakness. "We are working Western Echo five-eighths Tuesday [tomorrow] morning, shipping Wednesday and running in the Illinois Derby on Saturday," Delp said. "Kent Desormeaux is going to ride him."

PROBABLE PREAKNESS FIELD

A look at how the Preakness field shapes up, with plans for VTC Kentucky Derby finishers and others likely to be running in the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico on May 20:

LIKELY STARTERS

Horse ....... ...... Derby finish

Thunder Gulch ........ 1st

Tejano Run ........... 2nd

Timber Country ....... 3rd

Eltish ............... 6th

Citadeed ............. 9th

Talkin Man .......... 12th

Ski Captain ......... 14th

Oliver's Twist ...... won Tesio; skipped Derby

POSSIBLE STARTERS

Mecke (5th), Star Standard (won Lexington Stakes, skipped Derby), Mystery Storm (won Rebel Stakes, skipped Derby), Petionville (won Louisiana Derby)

DOUBTFUL STARTERS

Afternoon Deelites (8th), Suave Prospect (11th)

DEFINITELY NO

Jumron (4th), Knockadoon (7th), In Character (10th), Dazzling Falls (13th), Jambalaya Jazz (15th), Serena's Song (16th), Pyramid Peak (17th), Lake George (18th), Wild Syn (19th)

HEADED TO PIMLICO

A list of Kentucky Derby horses (with finish in parentheses) likely coming to the Preakness:

Thunder Gulch (1st), Tejano Run (2nd), Timber Country (3rd), Eltish (6th), Citadeed (9th), Talkin Man (12th), Ski Captain (14th)

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