Coronado's Quest, the enigmatic horse at the center of this year's Preakness drama, played his role to the hilt yesterday, coming down with a foot bruise and further tossing this second jewel of the Triple Crown into turmoil.
The immensely talented -- but sometimes temperamental -- colt owned by Maryland's Stuart S. Janney III was scratched from today's Preakness. His defection robbed the race of its likely betting favorite and the one horse on which all eyes would have focused during the pre-race buildup.
The question of how he would have behaved before a rowdy crowd approaching 100,000 will remain unanswered. In its wake, the question looms of what more could possibly go wrong in Maryland's marquee sporting event and first million-dollar race.
First, Halory Hunter, the promising colt trained by Nick Zito and owned by Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, broke a leg Tuesday training at Pimlico.
A couple of hours later at Churchill Downs, Bob Baffert announced that Indian Charlie, the classy third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, was not doing well and would not make the trip to Baltimore.
Even with those defections, the Preakness still had Real Quiet, ,, the Derby winner, and Victory Gallop, the Derby runner-up -- and Coronado's Quest, perhaps the fastest of them all.
But yesterday morning, after Coronado's Quest galloped a mile and a half at Belmont Park, Shug McGaughey, his trainer, discovered a bruise the size of a dime on the outside of his right hind foot. He promptly called Janney at home in Butler.
"How he got it, who knows?" Janney said. "It's the kind of thing that most likely will clear up by next week. But it's something he can't run with tomorrow."
McGaughey said that Coronado's Quest, impressive winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes, might have bruised the foot training the past two weeks on Belmont's rain-soaked track.
"We were really excited about coming down here," McGaughey said after flying to Baltimore to saddle horses in yesterday's stakes at Pimlico. "I thought his deportment problems were behind him, and everything would go right. We didn't get to find that out."
With Coronado's Quest on the sidelines, the Preakness became a different -- and diminished -- race.
"I think it's a great loss to the Preakness, a classic race, to have a horse like him not participate, said Patrick Byrne, trainer of Black Cash.
"He definitely was the horse to beat.
"He looked like the main speed, the main class of the field. The flavor of the race has changed because he's not in there."
From his No. 4 post, Coronado's Quest, explosive out of the gate, likely would have broken quickly, claimed the rail and settled comfortably behind Baquero and his jockey Pat Day.
The expected early leader, Baquero has never raced farther than seven-eighths mile. The Preakness distance is 1 3/16 miles.
"If the race was a mile or under, I think Baquero would be tough," Byrne said. "With Pat [Day] going to the lead, he's obviously going to nurse his fractions a little to try to coast Baquero home.
"That means it's not going to be particularly fast up front, which will hurt the closers, such as Victory Gallop, Real Quiet and Classic Cat.
"I think you'll see Black Cash right up there with Baquero. When he starts backing up, Black Cash might be in the catbird seat."
That is one trainer's analysis. Wishful? Maybe, maybe not. But it reflected the talk and thought swirling around Pimlico after news spread like a Clinton joke about the withdrawal of Coronado's Quest.
Baffert, trainer of the new morning-line, 2-1 favorite, Real Quiet, said he was sorry for the humans associated with the sore-footed horse.
But he immediately realized that the development enhanced Real Quiet's chance to follow in the footsteps of Silver Charm, the Baffert trainee who won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness before losing the Belmont.
"There's no question he was the horse I was most afraid of," Baffert said of Coronado's Quest. "But I can't think about how the race might change.
"There's still a day to go. I just hope in the morning my horse is fine."
The horses who would have filed into the starting gate outside Coronado's Quest will now move in one slot.
That may help Real Quiet, who drew the extreme outside post in what is now a 10-horse field.
Baffert said Real Quiet looks better and has trained better for the Preakness than either Silver Charm or Cavonnier, who finished fourth in 1996.
"The Derby didn't take anything out of him," Baffert said of Real Quiet.
But still, Baffert is worried about the outside post. Real Quiet will likely be forced wide around the first turn, losing ground to horses along the rail.
"But I'd rather have a good horse in a bad post than a bad horse in a good post," Baffert said.
Real Quiet's jockey, the former Maryland riding star Kent Desormeaux -- seeking his first Preakness victory on the heels of his Derby win -- saw the loss of Coronado's Quest this way.
"It's one less horse to beat, one less horse you have to worry about," said Desormeaux, who rode yesterday at Pimlico. "I like my chances. I feel like I'm the horse to beat.
"They could have made Coronado's Quest the favorite all they wanted. All that would have done is put more drive in me. It's more fun when you have something to prove."
For Coronado's Quest, his proving will come later, perhaps in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap on May 25 at Belmont or even the Belmont Stakes on June 6, McGaughey said. That all depends on how quickly the foot heals.
But today, as temperatures climb into the 80s in Baltimore for the 123rd Preakness, Coronado's Quest will remain in his New York stall.
The 10 surviving 3-year-olds will test their ability in this once-in-a-lifetime chance in a spring classic exclusively for their age group.
"You can always catch the next maiden race," McGaughey said. "But [Coronado's Quest] is not going to catch the next Preakness. This was it for him."
Where: Pimlico Race Course
Post time: Today, 5:27 p.m
Gates open: 8:30 a.m.
TV: Chs. 2,7, 4:30 p.m.
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
Purse: $1,000,000 guaranteed
Weights: All carry 126 pounds
Weather: Partly cloudy, with highs in the mid-80s.
Program favorite: Real Quiet
Pub Date: 5/16/98