Seattle Slick threw a lickety-split first mile at the eight others in the Preakness today - the fastest in the 102 years of Preakness history. It was a successful tactic, and at the finish of the 1 3/10 miles Slew was alone, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Iron Constitution.
The horse that paid for his attempt to keep up with Slew in that torrid first mile in 1:34 4/5, was the second choice, Cormorant. His rider, Danny Wright, had little horsepower left in the final running and finished a tuckered fourth.
Jean Cruguet let Seattle Slew feel whip twice in the final running, to make him mind his manners, and then contemptuous of Iron Constitution's hand-rode him the last quarter mile, late charge. Still unbeaten, Seattle Slew is eight for eight.
Slew's solid win was another retort at critics who have doubted the colt's ability. It was also further vindication for Cruguet, the Frenchman who has constantly been critized for his handling of the colt although he has gotten him into the winner's circle every time he has raced.
During the day's early races, the stopwatches were doing double takes at the fancy times being posted by ordinary horses. In this first race, a mare named Soft Night had the time of her life, a snappy 1:10.4 for six furlongs for $8,500 claimers. Other winners of the early races were also surpassing themselves.
This suggested that unless Seattle Slew, or whoever won the Preakness obliterated the record of 1:54 set in 1971 by Canonero 2d he could be tagged as some kind of a slob. The track management vowed that they hadn't hyped up the track conditions, but there was much circumstantial evidence some sort of lightning had been induced.
The best guess was that the constant application of water to the track during the night had packed it down. Also, the inside post position, so highly favoured all during the meeting, seemed to have lost its charm today, with early race winners coming from the outside posts. Seattle Slew's No. 8 stall in the starting gates appeared to be less of a handicap, Cormorant's No. 1 less of a plus.
Early on, there were signs this could be the most-attended Preakness of the 102 years of the race, hitting 70,000-plus. This was signaled by the size of the infield crowd which was, in the main, a shirtless mon in the 85-degree best. As Preakness Day apparel, skin was much favored today.
The crowd was swelled by the troops from the ABC network, more than 100 in number, including commentator Eddie Arcaro, who rode six Preakness winners in his time, and ABC's newest instant turf expert, Howard Cosell, one-time hobby-horse authority. If today's camera work was less than skilled, a strike of ABC technicians was the reason. Supervisory officials were doing their work.
An hour before the Preakness was to be run, Pimlico offered a comment on the gross national interest in the race. The track announced a record for early Preakness betting, $423,022, compared to the paltry $362,265 of last year. Also Seattle Slew was gaining in fan-support, dropping to 1-to-2 status, after his earlier odds of 3 to 5.
It was announced that in the ceremonies following the running of the Preakness, the presentation to the winner would be made by Sonny Bono. A curious inmate of the press box expressed the sense of his fellows when he said "Why Sonny Bono?" There were no proBonos among the racing writers. They are still a-tingle at the presence in the winner's circle of Elizabeth Taylor after last year's Washington, D.C. International at Laurel.
The first Preakness colt on the track today was J.O. Tobin, the British imports, who was third choice. He was out in full gear, with exercise boy, at 5:30 a.m. Nothing to do with insomnia. He was simply feeling good at that hour and his stable decided to gallop him 1 1/4 miles.
Another early morning jogger was Seattle Slew, who was up, like the 1 3/16-mile Preakness 11 hours later.
Pireceeded his leisurely mile gallop under exercise boy Mike Kennedy. Slew's trainer said his colt knew something was up, like the 1 3/16 mile Preakness 11 hours later.
Pimlico officials scheduled the obligatory National Anthem and their Proud Maryland My Maryland long before the Preakness was to be run. They had learned their lesson from the May 7 Derby where the loud bands, including cymbals, left Seattle Slew so nervous and skittish he was in a fierce sweat at post time and was last out of the gate. Pimlico was being considerate of all guests.