"We're going in the Preakness."
With those words, trainer Shug McGaughey ended days of speculation about whether Coronado's Quest would race in the state of his owner against the best 3-year-olds in the land.
Speaking yesterday from his barn at Belmont Park, McGaughey said: "After a lot of days thinking about this, I just thought maybe it's the best place to go. His deportment's been great. I think and hope it will be down there.
"I think he figures very, very big in the race. I was sort of anxious to give it a try and see what happens."
Clem Florio, Pimlico oddsmaker, said he might make Coronado's Quest the morning-line favorite to win Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico. Florio said that distinction will go to Coronado's Quest, Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet or Derby third-place finisher Indian Charlie.
The issue with Coronado's Quest is his temperament. No one doubts his ability. Some would even argue that he's the best 3-year-old in the country. His latest conquest, gate to wire, was the Wood Memorial Stakes last month at Aqueduct.
But this winter in Florida and a couple of times last year as a 2-year-old, Coronado's Quest threw temper tantrums before races. He froze on the way to the track, causing his jockey to dismount. Then he wouldn't let the jockey back on.
After a disappointing fifth place in the Florida Derby, Coronado's Quest underwent minor throat surgery to correct a breathing problem. Since returning to his home stall at Belmont, Coronado's Quest has behaved perfectly and trained splendidly.
While at Pimlico Saturday to saddle Draw for the Pimlico Special, McGaughey checked the surroundings and potential problems Coronado's Quest might confront.
"I made the walk myself that I was figuring the horses would have to make," McGaughey said. "And the more I looked at it, the more comfortable I got with the situation."
He said he would bring his regular pony rider to accompany Coronado's Quest onto the track. And he said the colt's regular jockey, Mike Smith, would be back on board. After suffering injuries in a spill in March at Gulfstream Park, Smith plans to start riding again Wednesday on opening day at Belmont.
Searching for solutions to the pre-race problems of Coronado's Quest, McGaughey saddled him at Gulfstream Park in the tunnel between the track and paddock. For the Preakness, McGaughey said, he will saddle the horse on the turf course like everybody else.
That eliminated what may have become a major controversy. Two high-profile trainers with Preakness horses said sternly that if McGaughey asked for special consideration, they wanted it, too.
"Oh no, he ain't," said D. Wayne Lukas of McGaughey's possibly saddling Coronado's Quest in a quiet, out-of-the-way place. "I'm going to saddle the exact same place. You can tell the stewards that.
"We're all going to play on the same playing field. I don't care if he saddles behind the barn or down an alleyway, I'm going to be there, too."
Scheduled to arrive Wednesday at Pimlico, Lukas will start Cape Town in the Preakness. He was fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
Bob Baffert, trainer of Real Quiet and Indian Charlie, also said that McGaughey should not receive special treatment. Baffert is due in Wednesday, too.
"This isn't some weekday allowance race," Baffert said. "This is a classic. This is what it's all about. If he wants to come, fine, but he's going to have to do everything like the rest of us."
McGaughey said the only thing out of the ordinary he would like is for Coronado's Quest to be last as the horses walk from the barn to the saddling area. The horses usually walk in order of post position.
That way, McGaughey said, if Coronado's Quest acts up or freezes, he won't bother other horses.
But Baffert didn't even accept that.
"He's going to walk over in order like everybody else," Baffert said. "That's the way it's got to be. We've got to be on even terms with this."
McGaughey sounded angry when told of those comments.
"Yeah, I would like to walk over there behind all the other horses," McGaughey said, his voice rising. "I mean, isn't that the smart thing to do? Would you want Indian Charlie behind him? Or would you want him behind Indian Charlie?
"These people aren't using their heads when they say this stuff. I mean, it's only logical sense to walk over in front of him. If he were to happen to stop, I would sure rather be going on than stopping behind him. There isn't enough room between that barn and that fence to go around him."
And then McGaughey said: "Tell Wayne Lukas not to get to crying too much, because we're going to do everything just like everybody else."
McGaughey said Coronado's Quest will not arrive at Pimlico until the day of the race. He will travel from Belmont by van.
"I'd like to keep him in his own home environment as long as I can," McGaughey said. "It keeps him out of all the hustle and bustle -- and keeps me out of it too."
Stuart S. Janney III, the Butler resident who owns Coronado's Quest, said he's comfortable with the decision to run in the Preakness -- "because Shug's comfortable with it. He's the one around the horse every day. He knows better than me what's best for the horse."
Now that his colt's next race is set -- the 1-mile Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont was under consideration -- Janney can begin contemplating the Preakness.
"It's a terrific race. I'd love to win it," Janney said.
If you go
Where: Pimlico Race Course
Post time: 5: 27 p.m.
Gates open: 8: 30 a.m.
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
Purse: $1 million
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Derby winner: Real Quiet Information: 410-542-9400
Pub Date: 5/11/98