In 3rd, 'Cat' scratches out East Coast niche Trainer Cross happy to leave Calif. 'brickyard'; 123RD PREAKNESS


Classic Cat didn't exactly knock them dead in the Preakness yesterday, but finishing in third place was good enough to keep him from returning to the rock-hard tracks in California.

"This horse will never see the West Coast again if I have anything to do with it," said his trainer, David Cross. "The Eastern tracks are a lot softer. Running in California is like racing on a brickyard."

Besides, the effervescent Cross just loves New York and Baltimore. He trained horses here from 1960 to 1982 before moving to California.

Yesterday's smooth run by Classic Cat to third as a 12-1 choice only added to Cross' good feelings about Baltimore. "I like everything about this town," he said. "I spent 22 super years here."

When asked why he had not run a horse in the Preakness since 1983, when he entered Kentucky Derby champion Sunny's Halo, who finished sixth that year, Cross said, "I didn't want to come here and clutter up the track with some horses. I only come here when I think I have a chance to win."

But now it's on to the Belmont Stakes and New York City in three weeks, barring unforeseen developments.

"New York is my kind of town," said Cross. "The worst restaurant in New York is better than the best in California."

The only thing that could keep Cross and Classic Cat out of the Belmont is a sudden worsening in the condition of a quarter-inch crack in his hoof.

The chestnut colt wore a special "spoon shoe" to protect the crack yesterday.

"I'll know real soon if there's a problem with the foot," said Cross. "It was real good today, and if there are any problems they will show up in the next day or so. His foot was OK, but my foot hurts. I've had a bad foot all my life and I've learned to live with it."

Cross wanted Shane Sellers to ride Classic Cat yesterday, but Sellers was on Black Cash, who finished fifth.

Sellers' agent, Ron Ewbanks, then recommended Robby Albarado to ride in his first Preakness aboard Classic Cat after 10th- and 11th-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby.

"Robby rode a nice race and did almost everything I could have asked for," said Cross, whose horse finished three-quarters of a length behind runner-up Victory Gallop. "I wish Robby could have gotten off the rail a little sooner. We might have been second, but there was no chance for first. He was in perfect position but just got free too late."

Albarado said of his horse: "He ran his eyeballs out. We had a great rail trip. When I asked him to run down the lane, he finished strongly."

Jockey talk

Kent Desormeaux, Real Quiet: "Before the race, I told Bob Baffert he was sharper than on Derby day. Two down, one to go."

Gary Stevens, Victory Gallop: "This horse ran a tremendous race. When I saw Kent moving five wide on the turn, I slipped in behind him and I thought for sure I'd go by him in the lane. But Kent's horse kept going forward."

Robby Albarado, Classic Cat: "He ran his eyeballs out. We had a great rail trip. We got ourselves in great position and when I asked him to run down the lane, he finished strongly."

Edgar Prado, Hot Wells: "He stumbled out of the gate and grabbed his right front quarter. But we settled behind horses, and I didn't have to rush him. On the turn, we were looking good. I thought we had a chance to win."

Shane Sellers, Black Cash: "Basic Trainee came up beside me and pinned me in behind Baquero. I couldn't move. I finally got out and ran fairly well. I wasn't going to beat the winner, but I could have battled for third."

Rick Wilson, Spartan Cat: "This colt ran his heart out, but he needs more experience. He's improving, but he's still green."

Pat Day, Baquero: "My horse ran well. I was very happy with his effort. But at the three- sixteenths pole he began to wilt."

Cornelio Velasquez, Basic Trainee: "I got good position on the backstretch, but he didn't want to go between horses."

Jerry Bailey, Cape Town: "We were in good position early. But then at the far turn, he just didn't have it anymore. He just didn't fire."

Frank Douglas, Silver's Prospect: "It was great. I was on the outside and my horse settled down pretty good. When I asked him to run, he did and he tried."

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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