The Preakness was only minutes into history, with Seattle Slew safely two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown, when two of the beaten Pimlico jockeys started beating a dead horse.

"I thought we were in pretty good shape, once we got the rail," said Danny Wright, Cormorant's rider. "But today the entire track had more consistency. They must have worked on it. Horses have been coming from the back and winning the last two days, which they weren't doing earlier."

Gregg McCarron, who finished eight aboard Counter Punch, was even more direct: "Management said they were going to fix the track, and they did," McCarron noted. "It's a shame they didn't do this way back when."

Early Sunday morning, in the track kitchen, several trainers kept the racing strip the subject of their coffeeklatch.

"I wonder," one said, had Seattle Slew drawn the rail and Cormorant been in No. 8, if management would have done what it did to fix up the track. Isn't it a coincidence how the racing strip here gets straightened out so quickly during Preakness week?

"It's been so bad this meeting the horsemen aren't betting like they usually do," the trainer added. "If you drew Post 5, and didn't have the speed to get over the rail in a hurry, you had little chance.

"Friday, they must have graded it, to make it more even. They had to take some of the excess dirt off the top from the middle to the outside to make it faster al the way across. They wouldn't have dared to cut up the rail; in case it rained it would have become impossible. For them to say they didn't do anything is an insult to your intelligence."

Chick lang, Pimlico's general manager, insists nothing was done to the racing strip last week except watering.

Before I got to that great racetrack in the sky I'd like, just once, to sit down with horsemen and other critics and conduct a seminar in track maintenance," Lang said. "We grade the track before the meeting starts, and maybe the week before the Kentucky Derby. Then we leave it alone. We didn't change anything last week. Those who say we did are whistling in the dark."

Land admits the Seattle Slew team was worried about the track conditions.

"Jim Hill came to talk to me. He was very diplomatic," Lang said. "Hill was primarily concerned with the safety of the horse. Billy Turner, the trainer, had said the track was very, very hard. Well, I believer a hard, fast racetrack is the best track you can have, just so it's uniform. It is the spotty track that causes physical breakdowns.

"The secret to our track is water. The more you pour on it, the faster you get. We put so much water on it one day last week it was actually sloppy from the 3-16th to the eight pole for awhile.

"Now, I admit, early in the meeting the rail was a lot firmer or harder than the track eight feet out. If you got right down on the rail you were on the fastest part. The jockeys knew it. The trainers knew it. The handicappers knew it.

"That may have been because of our severe winter, the deepest freeze we've had around here in 77 years."

Pimlico, accordingly took special precautions in working on the strip.

"We salted it. We put the big disks on it, but stayed away from the rail four feet or so because, if they had been too close, they would have pulled the rail right out," Lang said. "Because they stayed off the rail they cut more cushion to the outside than on the inside."

Perhaps that was all that was needed to make the inside extra-fast for the meeting, no matter what preventive action was later taken later.

"This is a good, fast safe racetrack," Lang countered. "It is a track that because of this shape, with the tight turns, has always favored the inside posts over the years. My wife always plays 1-2 or 2-1. She's like everybody else, looking for an edge. Drawing 1, 2, 3, 4 is always a helluva lot better than 9, 10, 11, 12. And horses on the inside run better here than at most. American tracks except Tropical Park, and Tropical's been out of business quite awhile."

All of which will not end the debate about the conditions of Pimlico's racing strip before, during and after the Preakness. I know only that successful jockeys at this meeting rode as if the inside going was gold dust. Trainers issued orders accordingly, dramatically changing tactis with their horses on occasion. And smart bettors bet the rail into the ground.

There are cynics who will always believe Pimlico started to run extremely scared last week when all the track talk began. Pimlico has excellent management, but it is still embarrassed by the faulty timer that deprived Secretariat of his 1:53 2/5 Preakness record in 1973 - a system that has been replaced - so it definitely did not want to be accused of Seattle Slew's losing on the bias.

Any time rail bias is as extreme as it was here this meeting, thorough-bred racing begins to take on the appearance of the wagon races, where post positions dictate favoritism to an absurd degree. And whenever the flats start looking like the trots it is time for a change that should occur long before the 30th day of a 38-day meeting, even ifthe Preakness isn't run until the 31st day.