05/14/2008 9:05PM

Preakness: First Peek


--The past performances for Preakness day are up, and here's the lineup:

Personally, I am delighted at the way the pick-4's landed, with both the $250k-guaranteed early one and the $1 million-guaranteed late one ducking the Old Mutual Turf Sprint Stakes, given my ineptitude at handicapping five-furlong grass races.

There are tris, supers and rolling doubles on all races and the minimum bet for everything -- including both supers and the pick-6 -- is $1.

--Preakness picks for Saturday newspaper were due at 7 p.m. I went: Big Brown, Kentucky Bear, Gayego, Macho Again.

--Commenter george_quinn asked why Calder's Saturday feature, the $36k Champali Stakes, is named for the racehorse Champali, who won 11 of 22 starts and $1.07 million from 2002-2004. I couldn't figure out his connection to Calder either until I called up his past performances:

Download Champali.pdf

Champali made 17 of his 22 starts in Kentucky. His longest road trip was for his one race at Calder, where he won the $500k G3 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 10, 2004.

Extra Credit: Champali won a four-horse photo in the Smile over Clock Stopper, Built Up and....a horse who made his 58th career start 13 days ago at Belmont. Can you name the 9-year-old, who was claimed out of his third-place finish in the May 1 race for $50k? (Answer below.)

--Here's a long press note distributed by the Maryland Jockey Club Wednesday afternoon that probably won't get too much exposure in its entirety amid all the coverage of the Preakness entries and draw:

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito drove into Pimlico Wednesday morning
around 9 a.m., several hours before the scheduled van arrival of his 19th
Preakness starter, Stevil. He brought with him a message about the
burgeoning issue of synthetic surfaces vs. the traditional dirt tracks, like
those at Pimlico and Churchill Downs.

“I made some statements about the synthetic tracks, and the one thing I
needed to address and get across is that our family and our owners daily
basically rescue horses,’’ Zito said. “The Hancocks have a horse shelter
that they put together. Kim, my wife, was involved along with a lot of other
great people. What we do in our stable, all my owners from John Hettinger
down, is we’re rescuing horses and saving horses’ lives, supposedly doing
the right things for horses. Because I speak out on the synthetic surfaces,
it’s not because we never want to protect horses.’’

Zito said he still believes that dirt tracks, with a little research and
development, remain a preferable alternative to synthetics, which have been
widely implemented nationally and also are under consideration for study by
other groups like the New York Racing Association (Belmont, Aqueduct and
Saratoga Race Course).

“As you know, I’m a dirt-track guy,’’ he told a group of media members
outside the Preakness Stakes Barn. “The issue with Eight Belles (who broke
down after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and was euthanized) is
going to come up over and over this week. You know just as well as I do, or
better, it’s more than the tracks. My thing right now is to try to protect
the dirt surfaces as good as we can.’’

Zito said he did some personal research on the recent Oaklawn Park meeting,
where from some 4,600 starters, there were only five breakdowns (one a
7-year-old, one a 9-year-old) during the meeting that went from Jan. 18 to
April 11 – a 30 percent drop from last season.

“They resurfaced the track this winter,’’ Zito said. “They also installed an
on-site soil analysis lab. They lost just three days of racing (that were
weather related). Zito said the entire cost of the resurface and lab
operation was roughly $100,000 – a significantly lower number than the $50
million NYRA officials had given a local publication when estimating the
cost of going synthetic on its three tracks.

“We have a big issue protecting these horses,’’ said Zito, who said he and
several colleagues were concerned that the synthetic surfaces might tend to
produce future generations of thoroughbreds with turf proclivities and
reduced dirt-track abilities. “If (Oaklawn) can do something like that with
that least (amount of ) money, there should be more research into dirt. I’m
here to protect the game. We’re in American racing, not in English racing or
French racing. If you go to all synthetics, there’s a good possibility
you’ll be racing in England and France.’’

Zito also said there’s not enough research regarding soundness as it
pertains to synthetics vs. dirt at this time. He also said that famed
acupuncturist Dr. Marvin Cain has detected some physical issues
(particularly in the hind quarters) with certain horses he’s treated for
Zito after they have performed on synthetic tracks, referring to it as
Polytrack Syndrome.

Cain examined both Cool Coal Man and Stevil after the Blue Grass on
Keeneland’s Polytrack and found the former had a physical reaction after
the race, while Stevil did not. Stevil finished fourth, Cool Coal Man was

“It’s not an exact science, but one horse (Cool Coal Man) didn’t like the
Polytrack and had some issues in behind,’’ Zito said. “The other horse
cleared perfectly. The horse is the main thing. We want to preserve the

--Answer to extra-credit question: The fourth-place finisher was My Cousin Matt, best known for finishing third at 60-1 to Speightstown and Kela in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Sprint four starts later -- a race in which Champali ran 7th. My Cousin Matt was claimed May 1 from longtime owner Richard Englander and trainer Bruce Levine by owner-trainer David Jacobson.