The Brock Talk

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Busting Preakness Myths

Two of the biggest questions asks every year before the Preakness revolve around the Pimlico track surface and layout. So I asked turf writer Gary West of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to give us his insight on the subject and some additional thoughts on the Preakness. Following are those comments:
Brock Sheridan

The Preakness is one of those races that expose the ersatz experts. They often talk about the “tight turns” at Pimlico. In truth, the turns aren’t any tighter than Churchill’s. (The Pimlico track is narrower and so the turns may appear to be tighter, but they’re about the same; after all, the circumference is still a mile, and if the turns were tighter, wouldn’t the stretch have to be longer?)

And then you hear that Pimlico and the Preakness favor speedsters because, well, this is the shortest of the Triple Crown races. But it’s still 1 3/16 miles, considerably farther than most stakes races, and it doesn’t necessarily favor speed. Remember Bold Forbes? He led throughout to win the 1976 Derby and Belmont, but he finished third in the Preakness, the race that presumably favors speed. As usual, the pace more than anything else determines the successful running style.

The circumstances of the Preakness differ, of course. The large Derby field always compromises some horses. And this year it compromised Friesan Fire, who had a terrible trip. Pimlico, like Churchill, can smile on athletic horses who run the turn well, and I look for Friesan Fire to run well at Pimlico.

I’m very fond of Pimlico and, of course, love the Preakness. Some of my most memorable afternoons in racing have been spent at Pimlico on Preakness day: the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer Preakness remains eternally my favorite race, and I’ll always cherish the memory of Risen Star winning. But I also had my worst day at Pimlico.

In 1998, the power went out, and the grandstand went dark, but the racing continued. Worst of all, the betting windows were down. And I watched, unable to wager, as horse after horse that I would have bet won. The Texas-bred Thomas Jo won the Sir Barton, as I recall, and one of my favorite horses at the time, Yagli, won the Dixie, and Acceptable won the Schaefer. It was as if I were watching a feast through a window but unable to reach out for any of the food. I even thought of venturing into the infield jungle, where the betting windows were operating, but reassurances that the power momentarily would come on kept me in the grandstand, and so I waited and watched winner after winner go by. Temperatures soared, a man passed out in the stairwell, and I wasn’t feeling very well myself after the eighth -- or maybe it was the ninth -- race. I had looked forward to investing in a long shot named Bubba Higgins, but I watched in frustration as he won without me at 22-1.

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