On a day when Pimlico turned surreal, Real Quiet, the crooked-legged horse nicknamed "The Fish," unleashed a run toward history.
After a power outage crippled Pimlico, creating bizarre scenes that will long live in memory, Real Quiet ran down Victory Gallop in the stretch to win the 123rd Preakness Stakes. Real Quiet became the second horse in as many years to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
And Real Quiet's trainer, the wisecracking Bob Baffert, became the first trainer in history to win the Derby and Preakness in consecutive years. He did it last year with Silver Charm, who lost the Belmont by less than a length in a bid to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.
Now Baffert has his second Triple Crown contender -- a $17,000 yearling with feet so crooked he once had corrective screws and wire inserted in his knees, and so thin he became known as The Fish. From the front, he looked like a tropical fish.
"The Fish turned into a shark," Baffert said. "He passed the test. It was going to take a great horse to do what he did today. And he did it."
Despite the widest post in a field of 10, Real Quiet, with former Maryland star jockey Kent Desormeaux navigating, weaved through and around horses for a 2 1/4 -length win over Victory Gallop in 1: 54 4/5.
Victory Gallop also finished second in the Kentucky Derby -- the ninth time the same horses finished one-two in the two races. The last time was 1989 when Sunday Silence twice defeated Easy Goer.
As he did two weeks ago after winning the Kentucky Derby, his first, Desormeaux nearly exploded with excitement after winning the Preakness, also his first.
"The Kentucky Derby, you know, it was a lifelong dream for me," said Desormeaux, who made his name on Maryland tracks in the late 1980s. "But I earned my credentials right here.
"In the Preakness, as I'm coming down to the wire, I'm honestly thinking: 'This one's for you, Maryland. I owe it to all you people who put me on all those horses that dropped from maiden starter to maiden claiming. You made me, and thank you so very much.' "
He said that after crossing the finish line he shouted for the world to hear: "Two down, one to go!"
After a week of bad news -- first Halory Hunter broke down, then Indian Charlie pulled out, and finally, Coronado's Quest was scratched because of a bruised foot -- Pimlico took its biggest hit when the power went out yesterday afternoon and wasn't completely restored until after the Preakness.
The grandstand area was thrown into darkness and confusion. Workers shined flashlights to light stairways and restrooms. Fans, soaked in sweat because the air conditioning was out, wandered around as if in a daze. Many mutuels machines were out, and areas that are normally bustling were stilled by events no one understood.
The fans who could bet helped make Victory Gallop the favorite at 2-1. Real Quiet's victory in the Derby was seen as lackluster, and afterward even his trainer said he wasn't sure The Fish could come back and win the Preakness.
But Real Quiet rebounded quickly from the Derby's demanding 1 1/4 miles. And, Baffert said, he began training magnificently.
"I told Kent I never had a horse come out of a race so great," Baffert said. "Within two days he was on his toes.
"If he had gotten an inside post position, I was going to guarantee a victory to everybody. But then he got stuck in that outside post."
Even that could not stop The Fish, despite racing four-wide around the first turn, five-wide down the backstretch and six-wide around the far turn.
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Baquero, who had never raced farther than seven-eighths of a mile, led into the first turn, down the backstretch and into the final turn. The eventual top three finishers -- Real Quiet, Victory Gallop and Classic Cat -- charged from mid-pack in pursuit down the backstretch.
Around the final turn Victory Gallop ducked inside and Real Quiet took the overland route. When the horses turned for home, Victory Gallop was in front.
"And I said to [Real Quiet], 'That's the horse to beat. Let's go,' " Desormeaux said. "I had the utmost confidence that I had Victory Gallop in my sights and could pass him whenever I wanted to.
"At this point I'm six-wide. Then I pushed the Baffert magic button, and away he went. I asked him for his life, and he gave it me."
Baffert said he would take Real Quiet back to Churchill Downs and train him there. He said he'd probably fly the horse to Belmont Park the Wednesday before the Belmont Stakes, which is June 6.
"I feel confident," Baffert said when asked about a Triple Crown. "But I'll feel more confident when I see the way he's training. I will not go up there unless I know he can win it."
Tom Amoss, trainer of fourth-place finisher Hot Wells, said he believes Real Quiet is a legitimate threat to sweep the spring classics.
"Here's a horse who handled the grueling route of 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, and then came back two weeks later and beat the best 3-year-olds in the country again," Amoss said. "That's a lot to be said for him."
Real Quiet beat the best 3-year-olds who lined up against him. But several of the best were on the sidelines, including Coronado's Quest, Indian Charlie, Lil's Lad, Event of the Year and Halory Hunter.
None of those, except perhaps Coronado's Quest, will be back for the Belmont. So it's unclear who will be on hand in three weeks.
Mike Pegram, the fun-loving owner of Real Quiet, doesn't see a threat.
"He's The Fish they can't catch," Pegram said. "I hope he never gets any respect. Just give him the money and I'll give him all the love he needs."
And Desormeaux, asked what he thought about a Triple Crown, said: "We've got the Derby and Preakness out of the way, now we're messing with history."
Horse .. .. .. ..W.. .. ..P.. .. .S
Real Quiet.. ...$7.. .$3.60.. ...$3
Victory Gallop .. .. .$3.20...$2.80
Classic Cat.. .. .. .. .. .. .$4.80
Exacta: $4.80.. .. ..Triple: $97.40
Pub Date: 5/17/98