One obvious reason why the 92nd running of the Preakness at Pimlico this week should be a first-class horse race is that its small field probably will include the first five finishers of the Kentucky Derby. This will guarantee a true test over the Preakness mile and three-sixteenths, a track with tighter, trickier turns than Churchill Downs. It also will provide Mr. and Mrs. John Galbreath's Derby winner, Proud Clarion, with the perfect opportunity to prove to many skeptics that he really is a better horse than the four who followed him across the finish line two weeks ago—Barbs Delight, Damascus, Reason to Hail and Ask The Fare.
In addition to these five the Preakness field is likely to include at least two, and maybe three, of the better 3-year-olds who, for one reason or another, passed up the mile-and-a-quarter at Louisville. Florida Derby Winner In Reality, for one, is fit and fresh, and Great Power may take up the challenge for the Phipps family as a substitute for Successor. Dr. Fager, who showed at Aqueduct last week that he is a superior miler by winning the Withers in a near-record 1:33[4/5] over previously undefeated Tumiga, is a Preakness possibility also. "I think we could probably win it," says his trainer, Johnny Nerud, "but it's too close. I seldom run a horse on consecutive Saturdays, and I may go for the Jersey Derby or the Metropolitan Handicap at Aqueduct [against Buckpasser]." Thus if the current picture does not change early in the week, it would mean a field of seven or eight, just what one would expect for a race of such value ($150,000 added) and prestige.
There is no reason why Proud Clarion should not repeat, after his rousing finish in the Derby when he overtook Barbs Delight in the last sixteenth and beat him a length. Yet there are those who doubt that he is the best distance-running 3-year-old in the country, and I am one of the doubters. It is difficult to justify this feeling, for none of those beaten in the Derby had any excuse. Still, I believe that Proud Clarion was brought up to the Derby perfectly by Trainer Loyd Gentry, and that once is not enough. The colt will have to do it again this week in order to convince many who ignored his chances and 30 to 1 odds in Kentucky.
Damascus, who looked like a sure winner at the head of the stretch at Churchill Downs before he hung, remains the horse to beat. "He was more rank and washy than I'd ever seen him before a race," Trainer Frank Whiteley said last week after he had brought Mrs. Thomas Bancroft's colt back to his home barn at Laurel. "Some say that keeping him secluded from the excitement at the track and then exposing him to it all at once could have caused this. But who can tell? His loss was no fault of Bill Shoemaker's. Bill rode him perfectly. So the fault was either the horse's or mine—probably mine. But I'm not changing anything. Losing the Derby was part of the game. We'll just hope things turn out differently this time around." It might be noted that the last time around for Frank Whiteley was in 1965. His charge, Tom Rolfe, had run third in the Derby and then went on to win the Preakness.
Barbs Delight simply cannot run a better race than he ran in the Derby, and it could be that he will never run as well. He is moving from a track on which he had never lost before the Derby. He is also losing the services of Jockey Kenny Knapp who, although asked to ride him again, has turned down the mount in order to be on Rhubarb in the Betsy Ross at Garden State. Even if Bill Hartack gets the assignment—he rode Barbs Delight in the Derby Trial—it would seem that the colt is being asked to do an awful lot in a hurry: the Derby Trial, the Derby itself and now the Preakness in the space of 19 days.
In Reality, on the other hand, has genuine Preakness credentials. The distance should suit him fine. He passed up the Derby, trained at Garden State, was the first of the Preakness horses to reach Pimlico and, as his cheerful trainer, Sunshine Calvert, puts it, "It isn't so much a question of whether he's fit enough as it is whether he is good enough." The last time this question came up—involving a fresh contender waiting for the Derby field to arrive—was in 1962 when Greek Money won the Preakness at 11 to 1 by a nose over Ridan, while Derby Winner Decidedly ran a dismal eighth.
Both In Reality and Great Power were to have run in a prep for the Preakness last week, but the race failed to fill. This upset In Reality's training and prompted Ogden Phipps to note, "I don't know what we'll do now with Great Power. We would have been glad to run in a betless race in order to get a race over the track. Now we're not too sure whether we'll even get to the Preakness itself."
The Derby's fourth-and fifth-place finishers, Reason to Hail and Ask The Fare, are back for more of the same. The former, as consistent as a mortgage bill, was third, even though he was beaten 11 lengths by Dr. Fager and Tumiga in the Withers, but Trainer Hirsch Jacobs loves to run his horses. "We'll try the whole circuit," he said with a smile. "After all, if you don't run you don't win." Ask The Fare seems outclassed in this company.
There are no real sleepers in this bunch, I'm sorry to say. And I'm going to stick with Damascus. Trainer Frank Whiteley is a Maryland man, and the Preakness is, after all, the Maryland race.