ELMONT, N.Y. -- The early favorite for Saturday's Preakness should be holed up in a barn at Pimlico, basking in the equine equivalent of superstar status as the buildup continues for the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown.
But 2-1 Coronado's Quest went through his final workout at Belmont Park yesterday morning and will not arrive in Baltimore until just hours before the race.
If that seems highly unusual, it is because Coronado's Quest is a highly unusual horse a horse with an attitude.
He doesn't like to be saddled. He has a history of behaving badly in the paddock. His temperament has become such an issue that trainer Shug McGaughey found himself at the center of a pre-race controversy because he asked Preakness officials to allow the horse to walk last in the procession from the barn to the saddling area and skip the post parade -- a request that met with resistance from some other trainers.
It was against this backdrop that Coronado's Quest went through the motions during an uneventful workout on the cool, breezy morning before they opened the gates for Opening Day at Belmont Park. Exercise rider Adolph Krajewski took him through an easy half-mile at 49 3/5 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1: 02 3/5. There was no sign of the willful behavior that has made the chestnut colt into racing's answer to Albert Belle.
"He's not a bad horse," said McGaughey. "He's got some antics about him when we throw the rider on him, but, hopefully, he'll act all right. He worked fine."
Coronado's Quest came by his bad-boy reputation honestly. He has made life tough on jockey Mike Smith with his volatile behavior before a couple of big races, even bolting away at the $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes in January and sprinting riderless around the track before eventually being remounted for the start.
McGaughey said that there hasn't been a major problem since the horse underwent surgery in mid-March to correct a displaced palate and clear his windpipe, but he was concerned enough about the horse's erratic temperament to hold him out of the Kentucky Derby.
"He hasn't done anything wrong since we did the procedure," McGaughey said. "I hope that's the case. Maybe he was afraid of his wind. I hope he'll be fine."
Though nothing has changed since the Derby, McGaughey and owner Stuart S. Janney III of Butler, Md., chose to enter Coronado's Quest in the Preakness instead of holding him back to run in the prestigious Met Mile at Belmont on May 25. Perhaps that would have been a safer choice, but the opportunity to win a Triple Crown race doesn't come around every day.
"There were a lot of reasons," McGaughey said. "It looked like it would be a short field and maybe an easier field, and he's not going to be in an indoor paddock. If he acts up on the turf course [at Pimlico], there's plenty of room to handle him. I couldn't find any negatives."
Still, it won't be business as usual. Coronado's Quest will not arrive at Pimlico until Saturday morning. The horse will be shipped from Belmont in the early hours of the morning, which clearly is another concession to his unpredictable personality.
"I didn't care about getting in that zoo," McGaughey said. "I don't think he needs to be there. He won at Saratoga without ever seeing the main track there and won at Aqueduct without seeing that track. We're just going to get him up early and ship him out. They do that a lot down there, ship horses right to the track from some of those Maryland farms."
If the early favorite is scheduled to arrive late, he isn't expected to start slow. He won't be afraid to set the pace over the 1 3/16-mile course if no one else goes out in a hurry.
"If there isn't any pace, we'll go to the front," McGaughey said. "If somebody goes out, we'll lay in behind. This horse doesn't care where he runs."
The controversy has cooled since Monday, when trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas complained that McGaughey was seeking special treatment for his horse when he asked permission to skip the post parade. McGaughey waved off questions about the issue and indicated that Coronado's Quest would take part in the normal pre-race routine.
"I've got no answer to that," he said. "I hope he will be fine during the post parade."
McGaughey concedes that Coronado's Quest could get "a little jumpy," but he still says that the horse's reputation was exaggerated by the media covering the Hutcheson Stakes and the Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida.
"They made such a big deal about it down there," he said. "If people had left me and the horse alone, it would have been fine."
Pub Date: 5/14/98