In the closest three-horse Preakness finish in 65 years, Silver Charm edged Free House who nipped Captain Bodgit -- about three feet separated them -- in yesterday's 122nd renewal of the classic race at Pimlico Race Course.In winning one of the most thrilling races in the history of the Triple Crown series, Silver Charm became the first horse since Sunday Silence in 1989 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Sunday Silence lost the Belmont to Easy Goer.

So now in three weeks at majestic Belmont Park, Silver Charm will seek to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

"Oh, what a horse race!" said Gary Capuano, trainer of Captain Bodgit. "How much better horse races can you get than the Derby and Preakness? What three competitors, and that far apart!"

The Maryland trainer held out his hands about the length of a yardstick. Then he shook his head and said: "You hate to be on the losing end of two like that."

In the Derby two weeks ago, Silver Charm edged Captain Bodgit by a head. This time the mighty Captain Bodgit, stabled at the secluded Bowie Training Center, roared down the stretch like a freight train -- only to finish third, two heads short of the winner, who finished in 1 minute, 54 4/5 seconds.

These same three horses dominated the Derby -- the two grays from California and the rangy bay from Maryland.

"I feel like years from now people will still be talking about these three horses," said Alex Solis, Captain Bodgit's jockey. "They're very special."

Silver Charm paid $8.20 to win -- incredibly -- as the bettors' third choice, despite his gritty win in the Derby and 10 days of solid training at Pimlico. Free House and Captain Bodgit were both listed at 2-1, but Captain Bodgit broke from the starting gate as the narrow favorite.

"I was surprised at that," said Bob Baffert, the trainer of Silver Charm. "He showed me [by his training] he was going to run big today. I didn't train him too hard. I didn't want to squeeze the lemon dry because he's going for the Triple Crown."

On a warm and sunny afternoon -- after a brisk and showery morning -- nine horses loaded into the Preakness starting gate as if they were graduates of finishing school. The 10th, Cryp Too, an unruly bay from Boston, lunged and dipped behind the gate like a teen-ager throwing a tantrum, delaying the start for several minutes.

When the gate finally snapped open at 5: 34 p.m., at least two horses showed strain from the wait. Touch Gold, the bettors' fourth choice at 9-2, stumbled and nearly fell. His nose scraped the ground.

Captain Bodgit, who dislikes standing in the gate, squirted out grudgingly, ahead of only Touch Gold. Solis said later that Captain Bodgit had lost his edge, relaxed and was leaning back at the start.

As 88,594 fans cheered the beginning of Maryland's greatest single sporting event, Cryp Too exploded into the lead, followed to the first turn by Free House, Wild Tempest, Silver Charm, Concerto and Frisk Me Now.

They maintained that order down the backstretch until Cryp Too began to wilt. Free House assumed the lead before the far turn. Silver Charm tagged along about a length back. Around the bend Concerto accelerated wide and Touch Gold, after surging back into the race, moved on the rail.

Concerto quickly flattened out, finishing sixth and prompting Maryland-based trainer John Tammaro III to say: "He ran good. I just don't think he's good enough."

Silver Charm took dead aim on Free House. He inched up outside, slowly eating into the short lead. Their classic, side-by-side duel attracted all eyes. It appeared that they would battle furiously to the wire -- the two of them -- in the manner of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer eight years ago.

But Captain Bodgit surged through the turn -- "Captain Bodgit on a roll!" shouted track announcer Dave Rodman -- and straightened out for home in a frantic rush. Until Solis cracked him left-handed with the whip about a sixteenth-mile from the finish, he appeared to have no chance of catching the leaders.

But on a day when closers had little success at Pimlico, Captain Bodgit again defied the norm, veered to the outside and galloped on. He pulled alongside Silver Charm, and then the three horses -- Free House, Silver Charm and Captain Bodgit -- strained toward the wire in such confinement that their jockeys could have reached out and touched fingertips.

In the final bob of their blurry heads, Silver Charm caught Free House at the wire. Captain Bodgit fell painfully short -- again. Touch Gold finished an impressive fourth, 1 1/4 lengths back, despite his troubled journey.

"Unbelievable!" said Capuano of Captain Bodgit's late advance. "He ran his eyeballs out. What a super horse! All three are."

After the suspense of the photo finish and the congratulations to all participants had waned, discussions turned to the Triple Crown.

"I thought this would be the toughest race," said Silver Charm's Baffert, "and it was. A mile and a half [the Belmont distance] is long, but I know he can do it."

Baffert said he expected Captain Bodgit to be nipping at Silver Charm's heels again.

"That kid Gary," Baffert said, referring to Capuano, "has done a great job with that horse. Everybody in Maryland should be proud of him."

And likewise Solis, Captain Bodgit's jockey, praised Baffert's charge. "He's a warrior," Solis said of Silver Charm. "You've got to respect that horse. You've got to respect all three."

Of the final showdown among the 3-year-old stars, Solis said: "I look on the bright side. The next race is going to be a little longer."

And Bob Lewis, owner of Silver Charm, simply added: "May the best horse win at Belmont."

Gray day

RF Silver Charm is the fourth gray to win the Preakness. The others:

Horse ............ Year

Belmar ........... 1895

Native Dancer .... 1953

Spectacular Bid .. 1979


Horse .......... W ...... P ..... S

Silver Charm .. $8.20 .. 4.00 .. 2.60

Free House ............ $3.60 .. 2.60

Captain Bodgit ................ $2.40

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