In the Kentucky Derby, Pleasant Colony had shown he could beat America's best 3-year-olds when everything went right for him. Today, he proved himself in a far more meaningful way. He showed he could overcome adversity.
After encountering difficulties that would have stopped anything less than a top-class racehorse, Pleasant Colony swept to a one-length victory over Bold Ego in the $270,800 Preakness Stakes.Though his margin was modest, the colt won with an authority that suggested he probably will join an illustrious list of horses as the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.
All week, trainer John Campo had assured the world, ""My horse won't have any excuses." But old hands at Pimlico knew better. A stretch-runner breaking from post position 12 at this track figured to be forced disadvantageously wide and lose valuable ground on the track's tight turns.
This is just what happened. And it didn't matter a bit.
"He was playing with these horses," said Campo, who has predicted Pleasant Colony's three victories since he became the colt's trainer. "He's a great horse you'll see. He does it for fun. He's just toying -- you wait until he gets good. This is a genuine racehorse. I'll match this horse with any horse that's ever been and I've been around some great horses."
The whole nature of the 106th Preakness was determined in the run to the first turn, when this race became almost the antithesis of the Derby. Bold Ego showed his expected early speed, but the jockeys of the other horses were determined to avoid a suicidal battle such as took place at Churchill Downs. Randy Romero, aboard the speedster Top Avenger, had been warned by his trainer to watch the early pace, and he put a virtual stranglehold on his mount.
That delighted John Lively, Bold Ego's jockey, who now was able to cruise to the lead while running the first quarter-mile in a slow 23 4/5 seconds and the half-mile in 47 3/5. Some riders failed to realize how slow The leaders were going, and made the mistake of laying too far behind.
Such errors made Woodchopper and Partez, the 2-3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby, nonentities today and they finished 11th and fifth, respectively. But Jorge Velasquez knew just what was happening.
He knew he had to keep Pleasant Colony closer to the lead than he did in the Derby, but there was no way to do this and do to the rail. So as he reached the turn he was four horses wide. As he approached the back-stretch, he was bumped a bit and forced even wider. This is the classic way to lose races at Pimlico.
Along the backstretch Bold Ego was running easly, not being pressured by the longshots in the pack behind him. With such a strong horse in front of him, Velasquez, in sixth place, knew he couldn't dawdle.
"There was no way I could get through on the inside," he said, so he asked Pleasant Colony to make his decisive move four-wide around the final turn. This is also tough to do at Pimlico. But as he rushed toward Bold Ego, with only the 74-to-1 shot Paristo close to them and nobody else making a move, it became readily apparent to the record crowd of 84,113 that this was going to be a two-horse race.
Velasquez thought it was a one-horse race. "I had dead aim and I thought he was going to win easy," the rider said. But Bold Ego was still a strong horse after running those slow early fractions -- he had covered the mile in 1:36 2/5 -- and he fought back.
"Now what's going to happen?" Velasquez asked himself.
What happened was that Pleasant Colony wore down the leader and drew away in the final yards, even without much urgining from his rider. He had covered the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:54 3/5, a respectable time just 11/5 seconds slower than Secretariat' unrecognized track record. He was just three-fifths of a second off the official mark of Canonero Ii in 1974.
Pleasant Colony earned $200,800 for owner Thomas Mellon Evans, whose Buckland Farm is located 30 miles from Washington in Gainesville, Va. The colt was considerably less remunerative to bettors who made him the solid favorite, paying $5, $3.40 and $3.20. Bold Ego returned $4.60 and $4.20, and Paristo paid $17.80 to show. The exacta was worth $25.
Paristo, who had never won anything more important than the Illinois Derby, was able to finish within three lengths of the winner because he had a perfect trip: He stayed on the rail all the way, stayed near the leaders and benefited from the slow pace.Thirty Eight Paces, a Maryland-based colt who seemed overmatched in this field, managed to finish fourth after racing near the lead all the way.
But many of the highly regarded stretch-runners in the field never got into contention. Partez was much farther back in the early stages than he figured to be and rallied ineffectually. Highland Blade was put under stout restraint early by Jacinto Vasquez and finished sixth. Woodchopper ran dismally and Eddit Delahoussaye said, "He was in all kinds of trouble. I got wiped out."
Jockey's and trainers of many of the horses in this field probably will find excuses and rationalizations for their defeats and challenge Pleasant Colony in the Belmont Stakes three weeks hence. But their alibis won't have much credibility, since Pleasant Colony had as tough a race as many of them.
"He'll win the Triple Crown, no doubt about it," Camp said."He's just the best horse." No one could contract him after today. Order of finish 1. Pleasant Colony 2. Bold Ego 3. Paristo 4. Thirty Eight Paces 5. Partez 6. Highland Blade 7. Escambia Bay 8. Bare Knuckles 9. Double Sonic 10. A Run 11. Woodchopper 12. Flying Nashua 13. Top Avenger