Johnny Adams dream of a slightly different kind of Preakness.
There's the field, six or seven horses in a row standing in the gates, with Seattle Slew, Cormorant, Run Dusty Run and the others rarin' to go 1 3/16 miles over the main track.
And there, breaking from a separate gate on the turf course, is J.O. Tobin, the best 2-year-old in England last season.
Pimlico officials, unfortunately, aren't quite ready to break that much from tradition. They want all the Preakness horses to be running on the same track. So J.O. Tobin will have to run on the dirt instead of grass, with which he is more familiar. Adams, a Hall of Fame jocky who trained for California's George Pope, believes his colt has a good chance, anyway.
"The Derby proved a little more that Seattle Slew is a good horse," Adams commented one morning this week as J. O. Tobin walked under the Preakness barn. "It showed he is better certainly than the ones he has run with. If those horses were going to beat him, last Saturday was the day, the way Seattle Slew got off so badly, then had to bull his way into position."
But Adams, like many other horsemen, does not seem overwhelmed by the prophet of saddling a 3-year-old to oppose the 1-to-2 Derby favorite that is undefeated through seven starts.
"I have great regard for him," the trainer cautioned. "I've' said that Seattle Slew reminds me a lot of Count Fleet. I rode Hasty Road here when he won the Preakness in 1954 (by a neck, over Correlation), and I got a good view of Count Fleet from behind when I rode Blue Swords against him here (in 1943)."
Johnny Longden was aboard Count Fleet that day, on the way to a sweep of the Triple Crown.
"There were critics of Count Fleet, too," Adams recalled. "Some people said he couldn't go on, over the classic distances, or that if someone hooked him he could be beaten. Well, the trouble was, nobody was fast enough to hook him. They wanted me to lay up close with Blue Swords, and I did, until about the top of the stretch, when Johnny hustled Count Fleet a little and they were gone. I was busy trying to save second money from that point on."
J. O. Tobin may have more quality than Blue Swords. He captured the Coronado Handicap on the grass at Hollywood Park last month, impressively ripping off a mile in 1:34 2/3, a stakes record only two-fifths of second off the track record. The question is, how will he fare on dirt, having been trained and campaigned most of his life by Noel Murless on grass in England.
"I'm encouraged," Adams replied. "He'll work a mile Saturday if the track is good. He went three-eights in 33 and 3 yesterday. In an exhibition race they put on for him in California, he was second, running on diret. He was in No. 1 and he stood there for awhile after the start and got six lengths back before Shoe tapped him and he made up ground."
"Shoe" is Bill Shoemaker, the jockey for J.O. Tobin.
"My grandson, J.K. Adams, called up before I left the coast and wanted to know if we had a rider," Adams revealed. "I hadn't seen my grandson in nearly 13 years, since he was about nine years old.I'm proud of the success he's enjoying here as a jockey, but he knew Shoe was set for J. O. Tobin in the Preakness."
J. O. Tobin is a long, lean, extremely racy-looking thoroughbred that was bred in Maryland.
"When I first saw him last year, after he had been brought by plane to Ontario (California) from France, he looked had," Adams volunteered. "His race in Paris must have been tough (J. O. Tobin ran third in the Gran Criterium, his only loss). That's why Mr. Pope took him to his ranch rather than sending him to his track immediately.
"So I got a late start with this colt. He wasn't quite up to making the Derby when he started coughing and running a temperature. To have pushed him into the Blue Grass Stakes might have knocked him out completely. He is a little high-strung, anyway. But now he has put on some weight and has had extra time to get ready for the Preakness."
The Belmont Stakes on June 11 also is in J. O. Tobin's future should he run creditably at Pimlico May 21 on the second leg of the Triple Crown series. Certainly, this will be an interesting colt to follow during the remainder of the season.
"I like the way he closed in the Coronado," Adams declared. "He ran the last quarter-mile in :23, the last eighth in 12 and 2. That was after shoe got him to rate, after he'd had a little difficulty with him during the first quarter. They laid second. When Shoe asked him to go, he took off . . ."
Sanhedrin is the only Eastern 3-year-old to have displayed any ability to close over a distance this spring, and he may be awaiting the Belmont after having finished third at Churchill Downs. If Cormorant goes after Seattle Slew early in the Preakness, as he probably will have to do, J. O. Tobin might be the major beneficiary. Should that happen, the transition from turf to dirt might be made much more enjoyable by Adams' horse.
Comorant, forced to miss the Kentucky Derby because of a viril infection will run today in the Withers Mile at Aqueduct outside New York City. He has won seven of his last eight starts.
At Pimlico in Baltimore, Oilfield heads the grass runners entered in the 1 1/2-mile Dixie Handicap. He will be ridden by Jean Cruguet, Seattle Slew's regular jockey.