05/08/2003 11:00PM

Maryland tradition lives on with Cherokee's Boy


Substitute crab cakes for Derby pie, a painted weather vane for the twin spires, and "Maryland My Maryland" for "My Old Kentucky Home," and the Preakness Stakes matches up quite well with the Kentucky Derby, tradition for tradition.

For those reasons, and many more - Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor, Little Italy - Maryland natives are as fiercely proud of the Preakness as Kentuckians are of their Derby. Yet while the rest of the country has developed a passion for the glamorous Derby - witness the 16-horse field that charged out of the gate at Churchill Downs - the Preakness always has been the underappreciated race of the Triple Crown, as demonstrated by the struggle this year to get a field half as big as the Derby.

The Derby winner did not bother to come to Pimlico in 1982. Numerous times in recent years, the Derby winner did not even show up until late in the week; that will happen again this year, with Funny Cide. But one tradition will remain - Maryland will be represented.

Cherokee's Boy - bred in Maryland, based in Maryland, and owned by residents of Baltimore - will be the local hope in the May 17 Preakness. He will be a longshot, but he will seek to follow in the footsteps of other Maryland-based runners who scored upsets, or gave a scare to their better-known rivals, in the Preakness.

Last year, 45-1 shot Magic Weisner came within three-quarters of a length of beating War Emblem, the Derby winner. Oliver's Twist was second at 25-1 in 1995. Deputed Testamony ran better than his owners spelled, winning in 1983 at 14-1. The quintessential Maryland upset was that of Bee Bee Bee, who won as an 18-1 shot in 1972 while beating the odds-on favorite, Derby winner Riva Ridge.

"He deserves a shot," Gary Capuano, the trainer of Cherokee's Boy, said Friday from Maryland. "Now's the time to take a shot."

Cherokee's Boy - a colt by Citidancer owned and bred by Foard Wilgis and David Picarello - has won 4 of 12 starts. He most recently captured the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 19, making him unbeaten in three starts at Pimlico. But Capuano is taking a sober approach to the Preakness, because Ten Most Wanted and Outta Here, who beat Cherokee's Boy in stakes races in the past six months, both were well beaten in the Derby.

"Looking at the Derby, we've got no chance, because the horses who beat us did not run well in the Derby," Capuano said. "But with Empire Maker not running, and Atswhatimtalknbout not running, and maybe even Peace Rules passing the race for Midas Eyes, that opens the door quite a bit. It looks like it's not going to be a big field. He's unbeaten at Pimlico. That helps.

"But, still, you want a chance to win. I don't want to run just to be there. I don't want to run unless we've got a legitimate shot. Unless you can hit the board, a week after the race it doesn't mean anything. As long as you've got a decent chance to hit the board, it's all worth it. No one wants to be in the race any more than I do. Hopefully after the race, the owners will say, 'See, I told you we should run.' "

Capuano, 39, has been through the Triple Crown grind once before. He trained Captain Bodgit, who in 1997 won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial before dropping narrow decisions to Silver Charm in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"That was a lot of fun," Capuano said. "He was a top contender. After being there with a horse who had a legitimate shot, I don't want to go back unless I have a horse with a legitimate shot. I know what it takes. This horse is no Captain Bodgit, but he's a nice horse. He deserves a shot."

Capuano trains 24 horses and is based at Bowie, the former track that now serves strictly as a training center. From there, he has sent Cherokee's Boy to races in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, and both major tracks in Maryland, Laurel and Pimlico.

"It's a good training surface," Capuano said. "It's quiet. The only downside is you have to ship to run anywhere you go. He has got some frequent miles, and they're not all from flying. There's a lot of road miles. I've sent him halfway across the country by trailer."

For his next race, it is just a 45-minute commute to Pimlico. More than anyone else in the race, he has the home-field advantage.

In other Preakness developments Friday:

o Alysweep, second in Aqueduct's Withers Stakes on May 3, is possible for the race, trainer Patrick Reynolds said. "We're keeping an open mind," said Reynolds, who was going to consult with owner Michael Dubb before deciding whether to run. "This would be a nice race to be competitive with, but it's only two weeks. It's a quick turnaround."

Kissin Saint and Foufa's Warrior also are possible for the race, Pimlico officials said Friday.

o Funny Cide had a spirited gallop of one lap around the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Park main track. "I was exhausted. My arms felt like rubber bands," said Robin Smullen, the exercise rider and assistant trainer for Funny Cide. "I was tired. He never gets tired."

o Peace Rules, third in the Derby, also galloped at Belmont.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson