At least Real Quiet didn't suffer a power failure today.
The Kentucky Derby winner made an eye-catching move on the final turn at Pimlico -- just as he had done at Churchill Downs two weeks ago -- and drew away to a 2 1/4-length victory over Victory Gallop in the Preakness. His performance, which put him on the brink of a Triple Crown sweep and a $5 million bonus, was just about the only satisfying occurrence of the day at Pimlico. Or all week, for that matter.
A power failure shut down parimutuel windows, closed circuit television, air conditioning and other amenities, preventing thousands of fans in the crowd of 91,122 from betting on Maryland's most famous race and, in many cases, from seeing it. This afternoon's fiasco -- caused by a failed Baltimore Gas and Electric transformer -- followed a dismal week during which two potential favorites, Indian Charlie and Coronado's Quest, were withdrawn from the race, and another contender, Halory Hunter, broke a leg during a workout.
The outcome of the Preakness marked a refreshing appearance of logic and predictability, as the top two finishers in the Derby duplicated their efforts and dominated the rest of the 10-horse field.
Real Quiet's victory marked a triumphant homecoming for Kent Desormeaux, the 28-year-old jockey who launched his sensational career in Maryland 11 years ago and now is on the verge of capturing the sport's greatest prize.
Desormeaux knew what every sentient horseplayer in the grandstand did -- that it is hard for horses to come from too far behind at Pimlico. He knew, too, that with a lack of speed in the Preakness field, he couldn't count on a fast pace to weaken the front-runners. He wanted his stretch-running mount to be close to the leaders, as did Gary Stevens, the rider of Victory Gallop. So when the gate opened, both riders were determined to get from their outside posts into a reasonable striking position.
Victory Gallop, the 2-to-1 favorite, broke from Post 9, Real Quiet from Post 10, and Victory Gallop stayed inside his rival as they dashed to the first turn. There they were two-wide and three-wide, respectively. As the sprinter Baquero -- entered as a "rabbit" for his stablemate Cape Town -- opened a clear lead and set the pace, Victory Gallop and Real Quiet sat in mid-pack, only about six lengths behind.
Baquero was weakening after covering a half mile in 46 2/5 seconds and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11 (those clockings were hand-timed because the electric timer wasn't working), and nobody else was accelerating. Desormeaux and Stevens decided almost simultaneously that it was time to make their moves. Victory Gallop moved three-wide and Real Quiet was four-wide; this was the difficult, ground-losing trip that trainer Bob Baffert had dreaded after his colt had drawn the outside post. But the loss of ground wasn't going to matter -- and Desormeaux knew it as soon as he asked for a response.
"At the turn," he said, "I felt the horse was telling me, I've got these guys any time. You just tell me when to go.' " After telling him, Desormeaux said, "Real Quiet gave me another gear." He outkicked Victory Gallop on the turn, as he had outkicked Indian Charlie at the comparable stage of the Derby. Although Victory Gallop is a strong finisher -- he rallied from last place in the Derby and narrowly lost -- he doesn't have the sudden burst of speed that is now Real Quiet's trademark. By the time he had turned into the stretch, Real Quiet had seized control, and he was never threatened, as he covered the 1 3/16 miles in a hand-timed 1:54 3/5.
Classic Cat made a late rally to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Victory Gallop. Cape Town, who had been considered one of the top contenders in the race, faded to finish ninth. A few weeks ago, no one would have guessed that Real Quiet would emerge as the star of his generation. He wasn't even the star of his own barn, for Indian Charlie was considered Baffert's top 3-year-old prospect. "I never took this horse seriously," Baffert acknowledged. "Now we're taking him real seriously."
Not only did Real Quiet mature and reach peak condition at the optimal moment, but he stayed healthy when many other top members of his generation were being sidelined by injuries. And while other runners in the Kentucky Derby were enervated by the experience -- including Indian Charlie -- Real Quiet thrived. Baffert said all week that he was amazed by the horse's sharpness and energy as he trained for the Preakness. Those who heeded his tip collected a $7 win payoff and a $14.80 exacta. Owner Mike Pegram collected $650,000 of the Preakness's total $1 million purse, and for him the stakes are getting higher. If Real Quiet wins the June 6 Belmont Stakes and completes a sweep of the Triple Crown, he will not only become the first horse to accomplish the feat since Affirmed in 1978, but he will become the first horse to collect the lucrative bonus offered by Visa USA. This prospect was in the minds of the participants as soon as Real Quiet crossed the finish line. Desormeaux immediately raised two fingers, and it wasn't a V-for-victory sign. Instead, he said, he was indicating, "Two down and one to go!" When Baffert saw Visa President Carl Pascarella at the winner's circle ceremony, he said, "The $5 million bonus is in jeopardy." Baffert missed that windfall last year, when Silver Charm narrowly missed a Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park. Real Quiet isn't as talented as his stablemate, but he has less competition, and he looks well-suited to the Belmont distance. If he completes the feat, perhaps the people at Pimlico today will be able to say that they saw a bit of history being made -- not just that they were present at the Preakness when everything went wrong. CAPTION: "At the turn, I felt the horse was telling me, I've got these guys any time. You just tell me when to go,' " said Real Quiet's jockey Kent Desormeaux, a 2 1/4-length winner over Victory Gallop. CAPTION: It was a happy homecoming for Kent Desormeaux, 28, who launched his career in Maryland 11 years ago. CAPTION: If Kent Desormeaux, Real Quiet win Belmont on June 6, they will get a $5 million bonus for winning the Triple Crown.