05/18/2005 11:00PM

Preakness unkind to Derby runners-up

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Wilko takes in scene at Pimlico, where Preakness history is on his side.

BALTIMORE - Closing Argument quite possibly will win the Preakness, assuming he runs as well as he did two weeks ago in his narrow-miss, second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. But if he does win Saturday, the colt will buck an amazingly abysmal trend of Derby runners-up in the Preakness for the last four-plus decades.

Since 1961, only two second-place finishers in the Derby - Summer Squall in 1990 and Prairie Bayou in 1993 - have come back to win the Preakness. That's not counting Forward Pass, who was awarded the Derby on disqualification in 1968.

The statistics of failure are exhaustive. Since 1961, 35 of the 44 second-place Derby finishers have run back in the Preakness. Ten were the post-time favorite in the Preakness, but of those, only Prairie Bayou won, returning $6.40. From 1996-99, the Derby runner-up was the favorite every year in the Preakness, and all four lost: Cavonnier, Captain Bodgit, Victory Gallop, and Menifee.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact is that a 30-year stretch passed when not a single Derby runner-up won the Preakness (again, not counting Forward Pass). After Bally Ache, second to Venetian Way in the 1960 Derby, captured the Preakness, the next such winner was Summer Squall. Going into Saturday, the current losing streak for Derby runners-up in the Preakness is 11 years and counting.

Closing Argument, owned by Philip and Marcia Cohen and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, figures to be no worse than fourth choice in the Preakness field of 14.

Bit of history is in Wilko's corner

Most every knowledgeable racing fan is aware that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has never returned to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring. The drought continued when Wilko ran sixth in the Derby two weeks ago.

But Wilko stands a chance Saturday to add to the proud, albeit fleeting, history of BC Juvenile winners in the Preakness.

Of the 20 winners of the Juvenile, only two have even run in the Preakness, a remarkable statistic by itself. (By comparison, 13 of 21 Juvenile winners, including Wilko, have run in the Derby.) But the two that ran, ran big: Chief's Crown was only beaten a head in the 1985 Preakness, and Timber Country won the 1995 Preakness.

Trainer Craig Dollase has been particularly upbeat about Wilko's chances Saturday. "I think he took a big step forward in the Derby," he said. "We're very excited about the Preakness."

Zito changes his philosophy

When Nick Zito won his only Preakness, in 1996 with Louis Quatorze, he brought the horse to Baltimore more than week before the race. Zito talked often how he felt getting that horse to Baltimore early was key in him bouncing back from a 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

This year, Zito elected to keep his trio of Preakness runners - High Fly, Noble Causeway, and Sun King - in Kentucky until Wednesday before the race. Zito said the poor Derby results for those three horses made their Preakness status iffy. High Fly finished 10th in the Derby while Noble Causeway ran 14th and Sun King 15th.

"We wanted to make absolutely sure before we did anything and that's why I breezed them over there to make absolutely sure,'' Zito said. "We thought they'd all run better but they didn't so we wanted to make sure that everything was okay so we stayed there till the last minute to make sure."

Zito isn't predicting that any of the three horses will duplicate Louis Quatorze's exploits. He's just hoping they run better than they did in the Derby.

"The worst thing for me is if they do the same thing," said Zito, who is still baffled by the poor finishes for his five Derby starters that also included Bellamy Road and Andromeda's Hero. "As long as they go forward and improve then you know what we got next."

Zito was referring to the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Zito, who won the Belmont last year with Birdstone, is already pointing Andromeda's Hero to the Belmont.

Bailes shares Preakness memories

Fifteen years ago, Robbie Bailes was at Pimlico watching Summer Squall win the Preakness over Unbridled. Bailes had a special rooting interest that day because his father, longtime Maryland trainer Meredith "Mert" Bailes, saddled his lone Triple Crown starter, J.R.'s Horizon, who ended up finishing last of nine at 74-1.

On Saturday, Robbie Bailes will have his first Triple Crown starter when Scrappy T starts as a longshot in the 130th Preakness. At some point Preakness Day, he will fondly remember both his dad, who died in 1993, and his mother, Shirley, who died about a year later. Robbie Bailes, 40, was an assistant to his dad and was extremely close to both parents.

By unfortunate coincidence, Bailes said he recently received bad news about J.R.'s Horizon, who long ago retired to a farm in the Middleburg, Va., area.

"I got a call saying J.R. was killed by lightning last Saturday," said Bailes. "I said, 'No, you can't tell me that! I'm getting ready to run a horse in the Preakness myself.' "

J.R.'s Horizon, a gelding, was 18.

Big guarantees for pick four pools

Pimlico has guaranteed big pools for two of the pick four wagers being offered here Saturday.

The first runs from races 4 through 7, with a guaranteed pool of $250,000. The second, with a $1 million guarantee, starts with race 9 and ends on race 12, the Preakness. Both guarantees have been increased from last year when they were $200,000 and $750,000, respectively.

Media awards given out

Jay Privman, the national correspondent for Daily Racing Form, was the co-recipient of the Old Hilltop Award given out at the annual Alibi Breakfast on Thursday. The award pays tribute to selected members of the media who have covered Thoroughbred racing with excellence and distinction.

Privman acknowledged retired Form columnist Joe Hirsch as his mentor, saying Hirsch is "someone I've always tried to look up to and conduct myself with his ideals in mind."

Scott Garceau, the sports director at WMAR-TV in Baltimore, was also honored with the Old Hilltop.

Dick Jerardi, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia News and a contributor to the Form, was the recipient of the David F. Woods Memorial Award for best Preakness story.

Jerry Bailey received the Special Award of Merit and Rick Wilson was named Honorary Postmaster for Preakness 130. Gary Hershorn of Reuters was given the Jerry Frutkoff Preakness Photography Award.

* Besides the Preakness, there are six stakes and a starter-handicap on a blockbuster 13-race card Saturday at Pimlico. The track originally was scheduled to have seven undercard stakes, but the Hirsch Jacobs, for 3-year-olds at six furlongs, was canceled after it drew only three entries.

- additional reporting by David Grening