A warning to all those considering attending the Preakness today at Pimlico:
If you come, bring a helmet. The blue sky might fall right on your head.
Actually, it already fell.
Injuries and withdrawals have devastated the field, depriving it of many of the year's top 3-year-olds.
First, Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter dropped out earlier this week. Then Coronado's Quest, the morning-line favorite, pulled out yesterday with a bruised foot.
There was a rumor about a long shot named Basic Trainee also pulling out yesterday, reportedly because the Marines were threatening to sue for defamation of character. But the rumor proved false.
If the Preakness had any luck, the rumor about Coronado's Quest would have proved false, too.
That it wasn't false was no surprise. The race is jinxed this year, clearly. Its only luck is bad luck.
Who is going to win? How about a black barn cat? Or one of the two horses left after the rest of the field scratches today with injuries? (Just kidding.)
Actually, a better question is this: Who put this devil of a whammy on the second jewel of the Triple Crown? (And can they put another one on the Yankees?)
The weather got better and better during the week, but the news got worse and worse.
The race is down to a varsity division of three legitimate classic contenders and a junior varsity of seven wannabes, including several who simply don't belong.
Real Quiet, Victory Gallop and Cape Town -- the horses that ran first, second and fifth in the Kentucky Derby -- compose the varsity field.
And keep this quiet, but they're just a combined 13-for-32 in their careers.
The junior varsity horses? They're a combined 6-for-24 this year.
Not exactly the stuff from which racing legends are born.
Basically, Real Quiet has a shot at winning a Triple Crown almost by default.
He's a quality horse, but he has won only three of 13 starts, hardly an appropriate record for a potential heir to Secretariat and the other Triple Crown winners.
He even went winless in two starts as a 2-year-old at a small track in Santa Fe, N.M., for crying out loud.
But now he has a great shot at the Triple Crown because, well, his competition has dwindled to a precious few quality horses.
Besides the three who had to scratch this week, such top horses as Lil's Lad, Event of the Year, Favorite Trick and Artax also aren't running today.
Hey, let's get those seven together. That's a Preakness.
This? Well, it's as if the racing industry has taken its new promotional slogan too much to heart. Go, baby, go? They're going, all right -- going, going, gone.
If this Preakness gets any less glamorous, it will have to take a job loading a beer truck.
Oh, sure, the race will go on as usual today, in front of the typical huge crowd. The weather forecast is great. The race might even render an exciting finish.
"It'll still be a classic, a hell of a race," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Cape Town.
Easy for him to say. He's looking at a third-place finish, minimum.
Actually, with the field so thin, there's a real chance of a long shot hitting the board.
If last-minute entries were allowed, there'd be a three-hour wait in the racing office today as the trainers of all available horses with any ability hustled to sign up for the most wide-open Preakness ever. (The deadline for entries was Wednesday.)
As it is, the field is so thin that a colt named Classic Cat, winner of just two of eight career starts, is down to an 8-1 shot.
Spartan Cat, who ran fifth in the Federico Tesio Stakes in his last start, is down to 12-1.
Baquero, a sprinter who has never raced around two turns, is 15-1.
Basically, all horses that know how to run in the right direction are 20-1 or less.
That's some curse someone put on this race.
Not that there aren't several interesting factors to consider when placing your bet, which, of course, you'll still do.
A 15-1 shot, Hot Wells, is owned by Baltimore's Mike Warren Lasky, boss of TV's Psychic Network. In other words, it's possible that he has already seen the race and knows Hot Wells wins.
Are you going to bet against a guy with that kind of knowledge?
Spartan Cat is owned by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, giving you a chance to bet on a hometown interest.
Of course, if the horse is anything like Angelos' other well-known employees, he probably is just an overpaid underachiever. Hey, it's your money.
Actually, with the bad luck theme running so strong all week at Pimlico, you could pair Spartan Cat and/or Classic Cat with a 12-1 shot named Black Cash, creating a "Black Cat" exacta bet.
With the way things have gone, that's the smartest bet of all.
B6 Provided the horses don't scratch before the race.
Pub Date: 5/16/98