05/20/2001 11:00PM

Into first turn, Ward had 'terrible feeling'


BALTIMORE - Trainer John Ward said he felt the Preakness would be the hardest of the three Triple Crown races for his 3-year-old Monarchos to win. He was right.

Two weeks after gliding over the rock-hard Churchill Downs surface en route to a demonstrative victory in the Kentucky Derby, Monarchos appeared to be spinning his wheels on the deeper Pimlico track while finishing sixth, 7 1/2 lengths behind Point Given in Saturday's Preakness.

Thus, Thoroughbred racing will have to wait another year for a chance at a Triple Crown winner. There hasn't been one since 1978, when Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

Ward said he could tell right away that Monarchos was struggling with the surface.

"I had a terrible feeling going into the first turn," Ward said. "He didn't want to get to his right lead leaving the gate. He ran down the stretch the first time on his left lead; he didn't want to come down the stretch the last time on his right lead. He was uncomfortable with it most of the time."

Monarchos was last entering the clubhouse turn and remained in that position for the opening half-mile. He briefly responded to Chavez's rousing down the backstretch and entering the far turn, but his tank emptied quickly in the stretch.

"I'm trying to get close and my horse can't keep up," Chavez. "He was going through the same stride [throughout]. I just tried to get him close, and it didn't work out today."

Many handicappers felt that Monarchos would bounce, or regress from his Derby performance, which was a lifetime-best effort. Ward, who simply galloped Monarchos up to the Preakness - although he was credited with a mile breeze on Monday in what was designed to be a gallop - said he's not so sure that's the case.

"This horse was creased up and blowing pretty good," Ward said. "Anytime you catch a horse that's creased up that much and doesn't run his race, then it probably is a lack of handling the surface. Who knows?"

Although disappointed, Ward appeared to take the loss in stride. "If you don't know how to lose in this business you better get out of it," he said.