The best Preakness jockey of his generation has an unlikely mount in tomorrow's 123rd running. Baby Hands, as Pat Day is known to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, will be aboard the Lukas-trained Baquero, a 20-1 shot in the morning line.
When Lukas announced last Tuesday that he was entering Baquero in the Preakness, it was widely assumed that the trainer simply wanted to put in a "rabbit" to push Coronado's Quest on the lead and set up a late charge by Cape Town, his more highly regarded entrant. But yesterday Lukas denied that, saying that he had planned to run Baquero in the Preakness as soon as he heard that Favorite Trick, whom Day rode to a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, wouldn't be coming to Pimlico.
"I told Bob and Beverly Lewis [Baquero's owners] that I would run Baquero in the Preakness if I could get Pat Day," Lukas said. "That was the key. We had a commitment [from Day's agent] long before those other defections."
He was talking about the bombshell news Tuesday that Halory Hunter and Indian Charlie wouldn't be running in the Preakness -- the former because of a fractured left front cannon bone suffered in a workout at Pimlico, the latter because trainer Bob Baffert didn't think he had bounced back strongly enough from his third-place finish in the Derby.
The loss of those two -- along with the addition of the temperamental Coronado's Quest, who didn't run in the Derby -- turned the Preakness into a whole new ball game. And don't be surprised if Day, 44, doesn't turn out to be one of the major players. Although he's the all-time riding king at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, Day's record in the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown is far more impressive than it is in the first.
In the Derby, Day has only his victory aboard Lil E. Tee in 1992 to show for 16 mounts. But in his 11 Preakness mounts, Day has five victories -- one behind Eddie Arcaro's all-time record -- and three seconds.
Day's Preakness winners are Tank's Prospect in 1985, Summer Squall in 1990, and then three in a row -- Tabasco Cat in 1994, Timber Country in 1995 and Louis Quatorze in 1996.
Tank's Prospect, Tabasco Cat, and Timber Country all were trained by Lukas. But in 1996, when Day rode Prince of Thieves to only a third-place finish in the Derby, Lukas replaced him with Jerry Bailey for the Preakness.
vTC Big mistake.
When Nick Zito, trainer of Louis Quatorze, learned Day was available, he jumped to sign him. The result was a gate-to-wire victory in 1: 53 2/5, which tied the stakes record that Day had set aboard Tank's Prospect in '85. "Louis Quatorze ran a great race," jockey Shane Sellers said, "and he had The Master on his back."
That's what they used to call Arcaro, who won the Preakness aboard Whirlaway in 1941, Citation in 1948, Hill Prince in 1950, Bold in 1951, Nashua in 1955 and Bold Ruler in 1957.
But where the cocksure, profane Arcaro was known as aggressive, to put it kindly, the deeply religious Day is known more as a kinder and gentler ride. He has a way of communicating with a horse through his hands, which is why Lukas began calling him "Baby Hands."
Last year Day didn't get the chance to run his Preakness victory streak to four in a row. When his Derby mount, Crypto Star, skipped the Preakness, Day's agent, Larry "Doc" Danner, tried to get him on Free House, who was third in the Derby under David Flores. However, that colt's connections opted for Kent Desormeaux. In the race, Free House lost a head bob at the wire to Silver Charm, and Desormeaux was criticized for electing to hand-ride him the last sixteenth of a mile instead of going to the whip, as Gary Stevens did aboard Silver Charm.
Now, a year later, Desormeaux will make a triumphant return to Maryland, where he made his reputation in the late 1980s. He got a perfect trip in the Derby aboard Real Quiet.
Day's Derby mount, Favorite Trick, last year went 8-for-8 to become the first 2-year-old since Secretariat to be named Horse of the Year. But his eighth-place finish in the Derby seemed to suggest that his sprinter's pedigree finally caught up with him.
So now Day will attempt to tie Arcaro's Preakness record with a well-bred, but lightly-raced colt, who would appear to be in over his head. In his most recent start, Baquero was second in an allowance race at Keeneland.
But take it from Lukas: Don't underestimate the magic that Baby Hands can work.
"Pat and I are on a roll," Lukas said. "I think we've won eight of
the last nine races that we've been together. I think Baquero's a legitimate horse, and I think Pat's the perfect rider for him."
Pub Date: 5/15/98