05/18/2002 12:00AM

Talking about the weather


BALTIMORE - John Passero's workday for the Preakness on Saturday started at 8 p.m. Friday.

Passero, Pimlico's track superintendent, checked the weather Friday afternoon, did some calculations, and then radioed for his crew to hook up 10-ton rollers to the water trucks, fill the trucks with water, and get to the track. The trucks, which weigh 75,000 pounds when fully loaded then drove around the track, side by side, again and again, packing the dirt course to a tight seal.

At 10 p.m., the rain came to Baltimore, the same storm that reduced Churchill Downs to a muddy bog on Friday. The rain fell all night, but by 9:30 Saturday morning, despite low overhanging clouds, it stopped. The track was floated, Passero said, to squeeze the water out of the seal.

The first race went off at 10:30, with the track listed as muddy. After the race, Passero checked the weather again. The forecast called for no more rain.

So the tractors came out before the second race. The track was harrowed, in an attempt to get it to dry out by exposing more of the soil to the wind. The track was upgraded to good before the third race. It was harrowed again. Before the fifth race, which was the first to be run on turf, no new measurable precipitation had fallen, and the track was upgraded to fast. It stayed that way for the rest of the card.

Storm shrinks fields

Pimlico employed a peculiar bonus scheme on Saturday to get horsemen to enter any of the 13 races on the Preakness card. The scheme would have boosted the purses in the track's allowance and claiming races by as much as $11,200 depending on how many horses ran in the race.

The scheme appeared to have a significant impact. There were 144 horses entered, including also eligibles. The races eligible for the bonus drew an average of 12.4 horses, including also-eligibles.

But that was before the storm hit on Friday night. On Saturday morning, 30 horses scratched, leaving 114 horses on the card. Worst hit was the Sir Barton Stakes, which went from a nine-horse to a six-horse field. The Gallorette Handicap, run on the turf, was reduced to a seven-horse field, down from 13.

The bonus races, though, were not as badly affected. Those races went off with an average field size of 10.

* The $500,000 guaranteed pick four linking races nine through 12 paid $398, nearly double the $2 parlay price. Total handle was $905,000, far exceeding the guarantee. Takeout for the wager was 14 percent, lowest on the Pimlico menu.

The earlier pick four, with a $200,000 guarantee linking races four through seven, paid $6,153.80 for a $2 ticket, nearly 3 1/2 times the parlay price for a $2 wager. Handle for the bet was $208,952. With a 14 percent takeout, Pimlico still would have lost money on the wager.

* Karen Taylor, the co-owner of Seattle Slew, presented the trophy to the winner of the fourth race, an optional claiming event named the Seattle Slew Memorial. Seattle Slew died on May 7, the 25th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win in 1977. "I was looking forward to this tribute because I can remember how moving those times were 25 years ago," Taylor said. "But after he passed away on the 25th anniversary of his Derby win it became even more special."