1995
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Lukas Rules, Timber Country Reigns at Preakness

By Vinnie Perrone
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 21, 1995

BALTIMORE, MAY 20 -- More than six months without a victory, Timber Country today finally arrived in the $687,400 Preakness Stakes. He took the long way home.

Running fast and free on the outside, Timber Country passed five horses through the turn and homestretch and held on to win by half a length over the resurgent Oliver's Twist, a traffic-plagued longshot. Thunder Gulch, the Kentucky Derby winner and Timber Country's stablemate, finished a neck behind Oliver's Twist in third before 87,707 at Pimlico Race Course.

Timber Country's long-awaited resurgence ruined Thunder Gulch's chance to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred racing, and robbed Charles Oliver of a place in racing lore. The Aberdeen, Md., insurance man paid only $6,000 for Oliver's Twist two years ago, and has never owned another horse. He left the 120th Preakness with a consolation prize of $137,480 and thoughts of what might have been.

On a perfectly sunny day, Alberto Delgado wanted only a bit of daylight atop Oliver's Twist, a 25 to 1 shot. With a quarter-mile left and a strong horse beneath him, Delgado found his path blocked as the homestretch neared. Timber Country encountered no such obstructions on the far outside, supplying trainer Wayne Lukas and jockey Pat Day with their fourth Preakness victory.

Lukas also traveled an untramped path today, joining Lucien Laurin as the only trainer in more than 100 years to win four straight Triple Crown races. Lukas scored with Tabasco Cat in last year's Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and with Thunder Gulch in the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

The 9-to-5 favorite in a field of 11 3-year-olds, Timber Country validated Lukas's insistence that the colt is special, a posture the trainer held even after the 1994 juvenile champion went winless in four starts, including the Derby, before this race.

With vindication came a winning purse of $446,810, shared by some of the sport's most prominent owners: Overbrook Farm, Gainesway Farm and Robert and Beverly Lewis. The trip here from California became a joyride for the Lewises, who watched Serena's Song carry their colors to victory in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday.

Timber Country, in fact, was the fourth Pimlico stakes winner in three days for Lukas, who consequently asked, "Are they racing here on Sunday?"

Encumbered some in his third-place finish in the congested Kentucky Derby, Timber Country made a clear and hasty passage through the Preakness. The camp of Oliver's Twist could only wish as much for its colt.

Delgado, a Pimlico veteran, gave Oliver's Twist an exceptional ride through the 1 3/16-miles. But deep through the far turn, with a quarter-mile more to travel, Delgado could only wait and hope aboard the Bill Boniface-trained homebred, the only Maryland-based horse in the lineup.

Delgado had deftly worked Oliver's Twist from Post 10 to the rail, where the Horatius colt tracked a reasonable pace in fourth. Around the far turn, Mystery Storm was joined on the lead by Star Standard and Talkin Man, the three forming a moving wall that blocked the advance of Oliver's Twist. Delgado had Thunder Gulch to his right, and from the corner of his eye saw the chestnut head of Timber Country moving swiftly around them all.

"I kind of wanted to go out," Delgado said, but there was scant room to maneuver his mount. So he waited and hoped. As Star Standard took a slight lead as they straightened for home, Timber Country rallied outside the pack, and for a few strides was next to his sidekick, Thunder Gulch. With Day whipping right-handed, then left, Timber Country gradually moved to the lead and by midstretch seemed to have the race secured.

Delgado at last found a clearing with a sixteenth-mile left and drove Oliver's Twist through it. The dark brown Horatius colt blasted between Star Standard and Talkin Man and closed tenaciously near the rail, with Thunder Gulch rallying similarly off his right flank. But they couldn't get close enough.

Timber Country, bought as a yearling for $500,000, finished in 1 minute 54 2/5 seconds over a dry dirt track, a second off the Preakness record set by the Lukas-trained Tank's Prospect. Timber Country became the first juvenile champion to win a Triple Crown race since Easy Goer in the 1989 Belmont; Timber Country's victory today was worth $5.80 for every $2 bet to win on him. The exacta with Oliver's Twist returned $266, and the triple with Thunder Gulch brought $909.60.

Day, a four-time riding champion who'd been criticized for his lack of aggressiveness with Timber Country, became the first jockey since Eddie Arcaro, in 1951, to ride back-to-back Preakness winners.

Jockey Gary Stevens offered no excuses for Thunder Gulch, saying, "I couldn't keep up with the big red train today."

Delgado made no such claim.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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