The Preakness got bigger yesterday, but it didn't get better.
On a day at the racetrack unlike any in recent memory, with two horses dropping out of the race and maybe as many as six signing up, the basic exchange was one of quality for quantity, with one exception.
The two horses that were lost, Halory Hunter and Indian Charlie, were top 3-year-olds and among the leading contenders to win Saturday at Pimlico.
Most of the many horses the race gained in return weren't nearly of the same caliber.
Think of it as a bad baseball trade.
The Preakness traded two All-Star starting pitchers for collection of minor-leaguers who probably won't reach the majors.
The race followed the lead of the talent-dumping Florida Marlins, in other words, although certainly not by design.
The exception -- the race-saving grace, if you will -- was the one bona fide major-leaguer who did sign up yesterday: Victory Gallop, winner of the Arkansas Derby, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, a strong closer who easily could win Saturday.
If he hadn't come aboard late in the afternoon, the day would have qualified as a disaster.
The other additions to the race (either confirmed or leaning strongly) were Silver's Prospect, Baquero, Spartan Cat, Thomas Jo and Chilito -- decent horses, but all serious long shots in a Triple Crown setting.
Gaining that group in exchange for Halory Hunter and Indian Charlie was the kind of trade that would get a baseball general manager fired.
Come to think of it, didn't Roland Hemond make a few trades like that?
Victory Gallop's entrance did add balance to the trade, no question. In fact, at the risk of overstatement, it may well have saved the race's pedigree.
Besides Victory Gallop, the favorites now include Real Quiet, winner of the Kentucky Derby; Coronado's Quest, winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes; and Cape Town, the Florida Derby winner via disqualification.
In other words, even with the loss of Halory Hunter and Indian Charlie, who won major spring preps and ran third and fourth in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness still will have enough talented horses to make it more than interesting.
In the end, the same big crowd will show up and no one will know the difference.
And, of course, fans in the infield won't know whether they're betting on thoroughbreds or camels, anyway.
The shame is that the Preakness might well have had the best field of the year for 3-year-olds had Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter run -- yes, better than the Kentucky Derby, which Coronado's Quest passed.
But then, Victory Gallop probably wouldn't have signed up yesterday had those other two stayed in.
Several of yesterday's other late additions also clearly signed up after hearing of Halory Hunter's injury and Indian Charlie's withdrawal.
Those pieces of news triggered a comical chain reaction among trainers and owners who were on the fence about coming and also waiting to see what other trainers and owners who were on the fence decided to do.
In the end, it seems, many decided just to take their chances in a million-dollar Triple Crown race with a shrinking list of top contenders. And why not? It looks like a great spot to steal a race, particularly since Real Quiet isn't a dominating Derby winner, having won only three of 13 career starts.
Still, Real Quiet's chances of winning the second jewel of a Triple Crown got better yesterday.
So did Coronado's Quest's chances of winning the Preakness after not running in the Kentucky Derby, a feat last accomplished 15 years ago by Deputed Testamony.
The end result of the daylong hullabaloo was a shallower pool of serious contenders and a significantly deeper pool of filler horses.
Baquero? D. Wayne Lukas entered him to set a fast early pace and set up the race for Cape Town.
Chilito? The Maryland-based colt ran 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
Spartan Cat? Peter Angelos' horse is rated a 100-1 shot by one Las Vegas oddsmaker.
Silver's Prospect? He's rated at 1,000-1 by the same Vegas oddsmaker.
Thomas Jo? Two of his three prior starts in 1998 were in allowance races.
That's what the Preakness gained yesterday in exchange for jTC losing Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter.
If Victory Gallop hadn't joined the list of additions, it would have been a dark day.
It still wasn't a day to frame and hang on the wall.
One top contender breaks his leg, another drops out, a bad trade of race-day talent is consummated.
The Preakness will survive this craziest of days, but it doesn't need any more.
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 Probable field: Real Quiet Hot Wells Cape Town Classic Cat Baquero Victory Gallop Black Cash Spartan Cat Coronado's Quest Chilito Silver's Prospect
Halory Hunter breaks leg, OK after surgery. [Page 1A]
Post draw today. [Page 9D]
Post times: Today-Friday, 1 p.m.; Preakness Day, 11 a.m.
Simulcast: Sunday, Monday
Dark: Tuesday Information: 410-542-9400
Out-of-town simulcasts: For results, scratches, call 410-792-7464.
Pub Date: 5/13/98