05/18/2011 1:28PM

Preakness a vivid event for Dominguez


Afleet Alex and Scrappy T nearly collide in the Preakness. More: Hovdey's Top 10 Preakness moments.

Just out of curiosity, Ramon Dominguez, wonders what the statute of limitations is on the institutional memories surrounding his most dramatic, nearly tragic, experience in the Preakness Stakes. It’s been six years. Enough already?

“I don’t think about the race at all,” Dominguez said this week. “It’s just annoying that people still ask me about it. I mean, it’s okay right now, I understand, when everybody is talking about the Preakness. But I could be giving an interview about something totally different, like before the Breeders’ Cup, and someone will ask me, ‘How about Scrappy T?’ It always comes up somehow in the conversation.”

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When it happens, Dominguez, a gentleman to a fault, tightens his firm jawline and provides an answer.

“Some people were critical of my ride, and some people sympathized with me,” Dominguez said. “Everyone has a right to their opinion.”

There will be few more visceral racing moments than the one provided at the top of the stretch of the 2005 running of the Preakness. Dominguez was on the lead with Scrappy T and going strong. Jeremy Rose was closing hard aboard Afleet Alex. As they came out of the turn, Dominguez drew his whip through to his left hand and gave Scrappy T a stout crack on the hip, from which the colt veered right, directly into the path of the oncoming Afleet Alex.

As Dominguez immediately tried to straighten his mount, it was only the agility of Afleet Alex – combined with the fast and fervent prayers of the millions watching – that kept the colt afloat. While Dominguez watched in both horror and amazement, Afleet Alex regained his stride and rallied to go on and win by nearly five lengths. A shaken Dominguez kept Scrappy T straight to the wire and was easily second over third-place Giacomo, the Kentucky Derby winner.

Afterwards, Rose gave his horse all the credit, although Jeremy got high praise for merely hanging on under such circumstances. The young rider clearly was torn between the thrill of winning the second jewel in the Triple Crown and gratitude for still being alive to enjoy the ride home.

“It was a very scary moment, and it could have been a disaster if Jeremy had gone down,” Dominguez said. “Thank God it didn’t happen.”

That’s kind of the point, as far as Dominguez is concerned. The worst-case scenario did not occur. Both colts woke up the next day. The Pimlico stewards took no action. Alfeet Alex added the Belmont Stakes to his wild Preakness win, and the Triple Crown had another “Oh my!” moment to add to its highlight reel.

Since that day, Dominguez, 34, has joined the elite ranks of American-based riders with the look of a future Hall of Famer. In 2008 he shifted his base of operations to New York and led the circuit in 2009 and 2010. He has been seen in the company of such stakes stars as Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Cocoa Beach, Seattle Smooth, and Boys at Tosconova. He most recently won the Woodford Reserve on Derby Day with Get Stormy and is atop the 2011 national standings in wins, while in the thick of the battle for top spot in purse money.

Before Dominguez won his three national titles and the 2010 Eclipse Award, however, this native of Venezuela made his North American bones winning riding titles at Pimlico in 2000 and 2001. As a result, the Preakness always will be near and dear.

“As soon as you come to Maryland you realize how really big the Preakness is, and not just because it‘s one of the Triple Crown races, you immediately put it near the top of any goals you might have as a rider,” Dominguez said.

Last year aboard First Dude, Dominguez nearly got the job done. He took one of his long, dangling holds and let his colt lope around on the lead as he pleased, then rallied late when the real running began. The only horse to pass First Dude was Lookin At Lucky, who won by three-quarters of a length.

This experience was in stark contrast to his earlier Preakness mounts. They included Bay Eagle (88-1), Equality (27-1), Foufa’s Warrior (22-1), Diabolical (26-1), Xchanger (23-1) and Giant Moon (36-1). The best of those was seventh.

The last horse Dominguez rode for the first time in the Preakness was – you guessed it – Scrappy T, who was 13-1 and coming off a victory in the Withers. On Saturday, Dominguez will be handling Dance City for the first time, for Todd Pletcher and the estate of Edward Evans.

In his most recent race, Dance City finished third in the Arkansas Derby after balking at the gate, chasing a hot pace, and then getting pinched to the rail before being passed late by Archarcharch and Nehro. Under the circumstances, beaten less than two lengths, it was one of the best losing efforts of the year.

“I was in that race,” said Dominguez, who had a good view of Dance City from atop Brethren. “I thought he was pretty impressive. Turning for home he really got pushed down toward the rail and got bothered quite a bit. He still was able to finish up with a big effort.

“I know he was a little bit reluctant to load,” Dominguez added, “but it was only his fourth start. I’m not concerned about that.”

For all his accomplishments in 16 years on American soil, Dominguez still needs to break through with a victory in a Triple Crown event. Dance City could provide that moment.

“He’s a beautiful horse with a big, nice long stride, and with tactical speed to get good position early in the race,” Dominguez said. “I’ll listen to what Todd tells me, we’ll get out of the gate, and then play it by ear. As far as that goes, I really think he‘s one of the horses to beat.”