ESPN Horse Racing

Derby winner should like a muddy Preakness
By Ed McNamara
Special to

BALTIMORE - The heavy, wind-driven rain began before dawn Friday, when sunrise was only a rumor. By Saturday morning, when the National Weather Service expected it to end, the track at Pimlico was expected to have absorbed at least two inches of precipitation. The turf was so wet Friday that the Grade I Joe Aitcheson Hurdle was canceled, the first time within memory that a steeplechase in North America was called off because of a boggy course. Besides the 11 jumpers who didn't jump, there were 39 scratches from the 11 races that were run.

Pimlico's main track dries very quickly, but a fast surface for the second leg of the Triple Crown seemed like a longshot. The monsoon conditions still didn't kill the optimism of John Passero, senior vice president for facilities and courses for the Maryland Jockey Club. Passero said he would guarantee a fast track "as long as [the rain] stops tonight." It wasn't supposed to, and even if it does, no sunshine is likely. Overcast skies are forecast for Saturday afternoon, with temperatures in the low 60s.

Conditions in the infield may be suitable for only ducks, masochists and fishermen. As they say here in Crabtown, "Happy Preakness, hon."

There isn't much wet-track form among the 10 Preakness runners, with only local hope Cherokee's Boy showing a win on off going, and that was at 7 furlongs last fall in the mud at little Charles Town in West Virginia. Scrimshaw, Foufa's Warrior and Midway Road never have set foot on a messy track. Funny Cide is 0-for-1 in mud, but a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in his half-length loss to Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial indicates the Kentucky Derby winner likes it fine.

Originally, Funny Cide was scheduled to be vanned down I-95 from Belmont Park early Saturday morning, but the storm moving up the East Coast made trainer Barclay Tagg change his mind. He and the gelding arrived here Friday about 1:45 p.m. Tagg, a self-described pessimist, likes how the favorite is doing. "He's training great," Tagg said. "I have no excuses."

When asked about an off track, Tagg shrugged. "I don't know how it'll be by six o'clock tomorrow," he said. "It'll be muddy or drying out, so we'll just see. Either he'll like it or he won't like it. There isn't much I can do about it.

"I just hope he'll be able to tuck in around the first turn, if there's some way to do it ... I always have a reasonable amount of caution. There's a jillion things that can happen from the time the gates open to when they hit the wire, especially when you're going two turns with 10 horses on a muddy or drying track."

Funny Cide's rider, Jose Santos, didn't sound concerned about having Post 9 on a track where inside speed usually dominates, as it did yesterday. "I have a lot of confidence in Funny Cide,'' Santos said in the Pimlico jockeys' room. "He has a long way to the first turn. My horse has very good speed and we can get any position I want. I think everybody will be in the same boat. Whoever handles [the track] best will be the winner."

No matter how Funny Cide performs, Preakness day will be far more pleasant for Santos than last Saturday, when the Miami Herald published a story that suggested Santos may have carried an illegal device in the Derby. The allegations proved baseless, but Santos and his family suffered through a torturous two days until the Churchill Downs stewards cleared him Monday. Santos said he was unable to sleep and feared for his reputation.

"I knew it was going to turn out in my favor," he said yesterday, "but it was embarrassing." Asked about the possibility of a lawsuit, he replied, "No comment."

I Had the Quinella
More than 64 years after the November, 1938 match race in which Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in the Pimlico Special, Pimlico ran a simulation yesterday. Seabiscuit won again.