ELMONT, N.Y. -- D. Wayne Lukas' seemingly unstoppable march through the Triple Crown was slowed yesterday with the outfit's first bit of bad news.
At a hastily arranged news conference called about 6 p.m. outside of his barn, Lukas announced that Preakness winner Timber Country, the 6-5 favorite in today's 127th Belmont Stakes, suddenly had come down with a temperature of 104 degrees and will be scratched from the race.
The fever is considered fairly high for a horse. Normal temperature for equines is 99.4 degrees.
"It may be a small virus that may be over in 24 hours," Lukas told officials of the New York Racing Association.
Lukas' other Belmont starter, Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, is fine, and will slip into the role of Belmont favorite.
"It's a blow," Lukas said. "No one has any doubt how I feel about this horse and that I was counting on him to run a big race. Now it's a knot in my stomach. I've had some hits before, but I've never had a horse come down with a temperature on the eve of a Triple Crown race. It's a new one to me. Now we lead over the other horse and see what he can do."
He later referred to Thunder Gulch, considered the lesser of the two horses although he had beaten Timber Country in the Kentucky Derby, as "Mighty Mouse."
Lukas said that he was first tipped off that not all was well with Timber Country when he "didn't get right into his feed tub" at his 10 a.m. feeding.
The horse had had a routine gallop in the morning "and my son, Jeff, who had just flown in and hadn't seen the horse since the [Kentucky] Derby, remarked that he had never seen him looking better," Lukas said. "He was amazed at how well he looked."
Lukas added that when the horse still hadn't cleaned up his lunch by mid-afternoon, "we took his temperature and it was 103 and change. I thought we'll give it some time and maybe it would drop."
But when Lukas returned from saddling the winning Serena's Song in the Mother Goose Stakes about 5 p.m., "I didn't get the news I had hoped for. The temperature had gone up a point. That's when Mr. [William] Young and Bob Lewis [the horse's co-owners] walked up. We treated the horse at that point with Butazolidin and Banamine, and that took all our options away for starting in the race. We decided then that the best thing to do was to call the other owner [Graham Beck] and inform the press."
Butazolidin, widely used as a painkiller, also relieves temperature and is prohibited for use in New York in a race. Banamine, commonly administered to horses for colic, relaxes an ill animal and also is a prohibited race-day substance.
Lukas said Timber Country is not "in a stressful condition. He's pulling at his hay bag. I can tell you he'll sleep more comfortably tonight than Bill Young and I will."
Blood tests will be taken today once the temperature has subsided, and then Lukas will consult with a team of three veterinarians to determine further action.
Timber Country reportedly is insured for $12 million.
"I've had this horse for two years, and this is the first time he's had a temperature," Lukas said. "He's never had anything wrong with him, not even a cold."
Timber Country's absence should have little bearing on strategy for today's Belmont. The horse normally lays off the pace, behind stablemate Thunder Gulch, and then kicks in through the stretch.
"Now we just have to get down on our belly and try to beat them [with Thunder Gulch]," Lukas said.
Citadeed is expected to break sharp from the one-gate but relinquish the lead eventually to Star Standard with the idea of passing him later. Thunder Gulch is expected to stalk the front-runners, and then could pull off in the stretch as he did in the Kentucky Derby.
A number of other horses, such as Irish colt Off'N'Away, Knockadoon and Composer, are bred for stamina, and their trainers hope they will be factors in the stretch of the 1 1/2 -mile race.
Similar late scratches have occurred over the years in other Triple Crown events. On the morning of the 1992 Kentucky Derby, A.P. Indy, the second choice to Arazi, was scratched with a bruised foot.
Without Timber Country, there will be 11 horses in the Belmont field. The gross purse drops by $5,000, which had been paid by the owners as Timber Country's starting fee.
Timber Country was No. 11 in the race and was to break from the 11 starting position. Star Standard will keep the number 12 on his saddlecloth, but will move over to the 11-stall and break from Timber Country's original position.
Lukas still has an excellent chance to win five consecutive Triple Crown races, which would be a record for the series.
Earlier yesterday, Lucien Laurin, who is tied with Lukas with four consecutive wins, said: "Naturally I'd like to keep the record. But I knew someone would break it sooner or later. Lukas has money and good people behind him and thats what it takes to make it in this game. If you see Mr. Lukas, wish him good luck for me."
Laurin, 83, is retired and living in Florida.
When: Today, 5:32 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 7, 4:30 p.m.
Purse: $692,400 (winner earns $415,440)
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
ELMONT, N.Y. -- Serena's Song didn't duplicate her overpowering, nine-length Black-Eyed Susan Stakes score yesterday at Belmont Park.
But she still won the $200,000 Mother Goose Stakes by three lengths over 8-1 shot Golden Bri.
Serena's Song was sent off at 1-20 odds, shortest price for any horse at a New York Racing Association track this year. She paid $2.10 to win and place.
Of the $609,000 bet on the race in win and place pools, $566,000 was wagered on Serena's Song, according to Vince Hogan, assistant mutuels manager at Belmont. The filly's victory created a $2,500 minus win pool and a $94,000 minus place pool. There was no show wagering.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Serena's Song will stay in New York and run next in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 8.