05/20/2001 11:00PM

Lots of luck - all bad - for 'Bill'


BALTIMORE - No one can say that Dollar Bill has been short-changed in the luck department during his two Triple Crown races.

Yes, Dollar Bill has indeed amassed a king's ransom of luck.

All of it bad.

For Dollar Bill, the ledger now reads two Triple Crown races and two trips similar to the one Gilligan and The Skipper took.

"I saw a sign on a desk that fits us," said Dollar Bill's trainer, Dallas Stewart. "Manure happens."

First there was the Kentucky Derby when "Bill" was the 6-1 second-choice. He was slammed into by A P Valentine on the backstretch and was virtually pulled up while finishing a distant 15th.

The latest fiasco took place in Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. Once again Dollar Bill, this time the 8-1 fourth-choice, was minding his own business at the rear of the pack along the backstretch when Griffinite moved in front of Stewart's 3-year-old. As much as Dollar Bill remained on stride after his latest fender-bender, he did get shuffled back to last at the half-mile marker in the field of 11.

Afterwards, jockey Pat Day was forced to circle nine-wide on the turn to get back into contention, losing enough ground to house a track parking lot.

Nevertheless, Dollar Bill still managed to close furiously for fourth at the finish, bringing "Bill" within 3 3/4 lengths of the victorious Point Given and providing Stewart with a memorable thrill.

"I couldn't see what happened down the backstretch because of all the tents," Stewart said. "All of a sudden I see our colors at the back and I thought that maybe he got hurt. Then I saw him starting to come wide and I got a surge that he was going to catch them. It's a great feeling to have a horse charge down the lane like that in a Triple Crown race. I was jumping on my seat.

"Unlike the Derby, we were least a part of the race. This was an awesome feeling . . . it's what you live for."

The 41-year-old Stewart, who worked for 11 years as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, said Dollar Bill came out of his latest mishap showing no signs of wear or tear.

"He's like Superman, he has no cuts on him," Stewart said. "He's a teflon horse, nothing sticks to him."

Inspired by his belief that Dollar Bill "ran the fastest race of his life" in the Preakness, Stewart plans to ship owners Gary and Mary West's colt to New York for the Belmont. There's less certainty, however, about whether Day will be back in the saddle.

Stewart said he does not blame Day for Dollar Bill's misadventures, a list of forgettable trips that also includes the Louisiana Derby when "Bill" clipped heels, nearly fell and still finished fourth. Yet his failure to say Day will definitely ride Dollar Bill in the Belmont would seem to speak volumes about what's running though his mind. Sometimes changes are made just to shake things up - or chase away bad luck.

"There's all kinds of thoughts that go through your head," Stewart said when asked if he plans to switch jockeys. "But you get home, get in your own bed, get a good night sleep, say your prayers and get a clear head and try to make the right decision. You don't make knee-buckling decisions right off the bat. That's when you get in trouble. It's not an easy decision to make."

Stewart said Dollar Bill will be shipped to Kentucky before heading to New York for the final leg of the Triple Crown - and another attempt at exorcising some demons.

Waiting until next year - or beyond

The last time a horse swept the Triple Crown was 1978 when Affirmed became the 11th winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Monarchos became the latest horse to fail in an attempt to become No. 12 and his trainer, John T. Ward Jr., said Sunday the sport may never again see a horse who can emulate the achievements of champions like Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.

"We may not [see another Triple Crown winner]," Ward said Sunday. "You have to have an extremely superior animal [to win the Triple Crown] and he has to be the only prevalent animal in that crop. You have to be long on talent and short on competition. This was a strong group of horses . . . and traveling changes things. You have people using airplanes now to get around and horses falling in from Dubai or Europe. It makes the target more difficult."

Baffert, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 1997 and 1998 but missed out on a sweep when Silver Charm was second in the '97 Belmont and Real Quiet lost by a nose in the '98 Belmont, is more optimistic.

"There will be a winner of the Triple Crown," Baffert said, "though if one of my horses was going to do it, I thought it would be [Point Given]. But you won't know until next the one comes around. Monarchos is a very good horse but he didn't show [Saturday]. Silver Charm and Real Quiet were real good horses, so it makes you appreciate the names on those boards [the names of the Triple Crown winners are on placards outside the Pimlico stakes barn]. Everything has to go right for you."

Triple Crown notes

John Oxley, owner of Monarchos was able to salvage some satisfaction from Point Given's triumph in the Preakness. Last year he purchased Point Given's half-sister, out of Tale of the Cat, for $975,000 as a weanling . . Pimlico set a record for both attendance (104,454) and handle ($36,445,762) . . . Ward said Hero's Tribute, who is owned by Oxley, will run in Saturday's Peter Pan at Belmont Park, but will not be entered in the Belmont. "I don't like running entries in big races. The way Monarchos ran yesterday, Hero's Tribute would have beaten him," he said.