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Preakness could be biggest bump in Triple Crown road for Monarchos

| Friday, May 18, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The Preakness, the second jewel in the Triple Crown, is the Hope Diamond to John Ward, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

''If he can get through the Preakness and be successful, the Belmont doesn't bother me that much,'' Ward said Friday.

Should the gray colt win the Preakness today at Pimlico, he would become the fourth colt in five years to go into the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

''If it happens, it happens,'' Ward said.

The stretch-running colt appears ready for a big effort against 10 other 3-year-olds in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness on a track whose tight turns can give speed horses an advantage. Sweeping turns and the 1-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes on June 9 drastically reduce traffic problems.

Monarchos looks ready for a big effort today.

''He is really fresh,'' Ward said. ''I thought he was fresh when he came out of the Derby for a horse who ran a mile and a quarter. I came over (to Baltimore) with more fuel in the tank than I had thought. He's going into this race as good or better than he did in the Derby.''

His 4â-length win in the Derby was accomplished in 1:59 4-5 for the 1¬ miles, second only to Secretariat's 1:59 2-5 in the 127-year history of the race.

As for Preakness strategy, Ward said, ''(Jockey) Jorge Chavez knows this horse, likes this horse. I leave the decision-making to Jorge. If we can get to the stretch a couple of lengths off (the lead), we'll be all right.''

Monarchos' chief rivals appear to be Derby opponents Congaree, who finished third, and Point Given, who finished fifth as the 2-1 favorite.

The last beaten Derby favorite to win the Preakness was Hansel in 1991.

Ward fears the speedy Congaree, to be ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, more than he does the strapping Point Given, who will start from the No. 11 post.

''You have to fear the only horse to beat him,'' Ward said.

Monarchos finished second to Congaree in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 14 for his only loss in five starts this year.

Bailey is replacing Victor Espinoza on Congaree, who took the Derby lead with about a quarter-mile remaining then gave it up to Monarchos approaching the sixteenth pole.

''We're not going to be the leader unless no one else wants it,'' trainer Bob Baffert said. Congaree will race without blinkers.

Richly Blended, one of six colts making their debuts in Triple Crown competition, is expected to be the early pacesetter. Winner of four of five starts, the colt, who did not race as a 2-year-old, led all the way in winning the Gotham at Aqueduct, was third in the Wood Memorial and led most of the way in winning Aqueduct's one-mile Withers on May 5.

Gary Stevens again will ride Point Given, who is making Baffert's white hair even whiter with his antics in the morning.

''He's just got that nasty habit of rearing up once in awhile,'' Baffert said.

Point Given reared up leaving the track the morning of the Kentucky Derby and his exercise rider came off, but the colt did not get loose. He reared up several times while going to the track yesterday morning, but the rider stayed on.

The only other two Derby starters in the Preakness are A P Valentine (seventh) and Dollar Bill (15th).

A P Valentine, who had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby, has trained well, and Ward considers him a legitimate threat. Espinoza will replace Corey Nakatani on the colt, who is trained by Nick Zito. In 1996, Zito won the Preakness with Louis Quatorze, who had finished 16th in the Derby.

Two of the starters are local favorites Marciano and Bay Eagle, both of whom will van to Pimlico from Delaware Park today.

Marciano, a son of Two Punch and named for the late undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, finished second by a neck to Bay Eagle in the 1 1-8-mile Private Terms Stakes on March 31 at Pimlico then won Pimlico's 1{1/8}-mile Federico Tesio by 1â lengths over Derby starter Talk Is Money.

Other starters are Griffinite, winner of the Lafayette and second through disqualification in the Lexington at Keeneland; Percy Hope, winner of Turfway Park's Rushaway and the Lone Star Derby in his last start April 7 at Lone Star Park; and Mr. John, second in the Gotham and second in the Lexington before being disqualified and placed eighth.

Griffinite is trained by Jennifer Leigh-Pederson, the ninth woman to train a Preakness starter. Of the previous eight, Shelley Riley came closest to winning when Casual Lies finished third in 1992.

Post time for the $1 million Preakness is approximately 6:04 p.m. NBC will televise from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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