Believe It, you'd better believe it. Iron Legend is being pointed for the Preakness. Victor Coladonato says "Junior" will oppose the 1-2-3 of the Kentucky Derby in the second event of the Triple crown Saturday, May 20, at Pimlico "if everything keeps goin' all right, and there's no reason to believe it won't."
Saturday, everything went beautifully for Iron Legend as he won the Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico by a half length at odds of 12 to 1. The start was only the third of the Legend's career and his second victory. In his first outing, he bolted on the first turn and was disqualified from third place.
In his second appearance, the bay colt defeated maidens at Keystone. Five days later, he was back in action, in the Woodlawn.
To say that Iron Legend and Coladonato are an unusual story would be an understatement, even in terms of the backstretch, which has been the spawning ground for countless rags-to-riches tales.
Coladonato, 54, has worked at the nation's racetracks for more than 30 years. He is the owner, trainer and breeder of Iron Legend, and also his groom, hot walker, exercise rider and, as of last weekend, public relations representative.
"C'mon, Vic, you gotta hire me now. You need a groom for this horse. You don't have the time," a friend said yesterday morning at Bowie. Coladonato almost agreed.
"From now on, no interviews until after I'm done working, about 11 o'clock," the trainer said. "It sure is different from a few months ago when I was livin' in the boondocks. Now everyone wants to talk to me, and I ain't no smarter than I was before."
The "boondocks" was Mac's Barn, a $20-a-month shanty across the road from the bottom of Blueberry Hill on the Bowie backstretch where Coladonato was forced to board his horse last winter. Bowie wouldn't give him a stall until its race meeting was over. He still can't get a stall at Pimlico.
"I'm gonna keep trying," the trainer said. "I'd sure like to get Junior off the concrete floors they have here."
Coladonato lives in a light blue 1954 Cadillac hearse that is in worse condition than Mac's Barn. He keeps his clothes and two sleeping bags in the back. "I'm not movin' out, no matter what Junior does," he says. "It's better than a tack room; more private, no loud noises."
"It got so bad," a groom said yesterday, "that Vic had to park it right up against the manure pile, in order for him to be a little warmer. It had to be rugged, but he never complained. He just kept saying he had a good horse to train, finally, and nothing could discourage him."
The hearse was given to Coladonato by his nephew, who needed a new rear bumper for his regular Cadillac. The nephew paid $200 for the hearse, to get the bumper, then put the old, banged-up bumper on the hearse.
"It looks okay to me," Coladonato remarked "Course, I'm not too hard to please, I guess. I'm not gonna change. If I go in the Preakness, the only thing I'll do different is to shave. I didn't do that last week. But I'm not changing the way I dress. I'll be dressed just like I am when I'm here at the barn."
The formal Preakness ceremonies could look considerably more informal should Junior produce another surprise.
Iron Legend is a 16.3 hands bay colt by Iron Peg out of Jenny Legend by Jersey Legend. If that does not sound like classic breeding, so what? Coladonato was using the old Jack Price (Carry Back) rule of thumb by breeding the best mare he had to the best stallion he could affort.
"I bought the mare as a 2-year-old off Frank Mulligan," he said. "Paid $1,000 cash plus another $1,000 if she won. She never made the races. She was too big. I bred her to Iron Peg over at Jack Mobberley's, near Glyndon, for $750. He was as good as there was around here, Ithought, at the time. I remembered when he ran."
Iron Legend is the 20th horse Coladonato has trained. "And all of them won but one, Mutual Fund, and he should have," the trained noted. "Five's the most horses I ever had at once. They all have their problems. Like Junior here. He didn't run as a 2-year-old. He had the colic, he dehydrated badly last summer, then bucked his shins, and later came down with pheumonia last winter; had a temperature of 105,"
Coladonato was born on a farm in Delaware that featured mules, not throughbreds. He began his racetrack career on the New Jersey circuit. Saturday was his biggest paydays $23,303.
"It cost only $100 each to nominate Junior to the Derby, Preakness and Belmont," the trainer said. "It's $2,500 to enter and $2,500 to start in the Preakness. Mike Sim rode him in the Woodlawn. I might try to get a jockey with more experience, say Shoemaker or Cruguet, for the Preakness.
"All I know is that Junior is as ready as he's ever gonna be. He doesn't have as much experience as those other horses but I guess they can be beat if you got a horse to beat 'em with."
Victor J. Coladonato obviously believes he could have the horse.