05/19/2002 11:00PM

War Emblem plus big field help Preakness biz boom


NEW YORK - War Emblem's less-than-convincing victory in the Kentucky Derby was good for business on Saturday for the Preakness Stakes.

With betting spread over the 13-horse Preakness field and record-setting handle in the exotics pools, all-sources betting on the Preakness set a record at $42,301,515. Total handle on the 13-race card was also a record, at $64,546,504, according to Preakness officials. The previous record was set last year, on a 12-race card.

Attendance Saturday was 101,138. The weather was chilly and wet, although rain that hit the Baltimore area late Friday night had stopped by 9:30 a.m. Saturday, an hour before first post.

The Preakness attendance record was set in 2001, at a reported 104,454. On that day, weather was nearly ideal. The last time Pimlico had rain for the Preakness, in 2000, attendance was 98,304.

Exotics prices on the race were all the second-highest of all time.

The Preakness exacta combining War Emblem, the 2.80-1 favorite, and Magic Weisner, a 45.70-1 shot, was $327, just behind the 1976 record, when Elocutionist and Play the Red combined for a $347.40 mutuel, only the second time the track had offered an exacta on the Preakness.

The $2,311 trifecta was well off the record $3,310.50 payout of 1991, but still second best since trifectas were first offered in 1989.

The $1 superfecta payout of $6,701.50 was roughly a third of the record $18,887.60 payout in 1999. Superfectas were offered for the first time in 1998.

Pimlico's infield tote board shall return

Pimlico officials are completing plans to rebuild a tote board near the newly installed Lumitron behind the finish line, officials said. The new tote board would be operational by Pimlico's fall meet, which is scheduled to start Sept. 4, said Lou Raffetto, the Maryland Jockey Club's chief operating officer.

Pimlico moth-balled its tote board this the meet after it erected a temporary grandstand directly in front of the board facing the finish line. To replace it, Pimlico installed the huge Lumitron to the board's immediate right.

Horseplayers have criticized the Lumitron, complaining that its screen is nearly impossible to read in sunlight. The screen, which shows the closed-circuit feed from Pimlico, also frequently does not display odds in the minutes leading up to a race, frustrating to anyone looking for prices.

The seating area that blocked the view of the tote board appeared to be nearly empty on a cold and windy Preakness Day, but Raffetto said that the seats were sold out. The $250 ticket price for a seat there included access to a covered tent where there was a free buffet and bars, Raffetto said.

"The weather made it look like no one was seated there, but they were actually inside enjoying the day there," Raffetto said. "Our hope is actually to expand those areas, and to what extent we can do it without affecting the sight lines, we will do it."

Injured Straight Gin is retired

Straight Gin, who trainer Nick Zito thought would have loved the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes, bowed a tendon in his right foreleg while finishing ninth in the Preakness and will not run again in flat races. However, Zito said that owner Marylou Whitney may try and make a jumper out of the colt next year.

Zito said Straight Gin either got stepped on or stepped on himself and punctured his right ankle which gave him the bowed tendon. "He must have hit it hard. I've never had a horse suffer a low bow in my career," Zito said. "And I've never lost a horse in a big race before this."

Straight Gin and Crimson Hero, who finished seventh in the Preakness, were both shipped by van Sunday morning to Saratoga. Zito said he did not have any plans for Crimson Hero, a half-brother to Albert the Great, but basically ruled out the Belmont Stakes.

"He's a May 21st foal; maybe he's like his brother and needs more time," Zito said. "Maybe he'll get good at Saratoga or in the fall."

Menacing Dennis, who dueled with War Emblem for six furlongs before fading to 10th, will spend the summer at Monmouth Park, said his trainer, Jeff Bonde. "From there, he's in position for a lot of races," Bonde said.

U S S Tinosa, the sixth-place finisher in the Preakness, will spend the summer at Arlington Park, and is likely headed for grass races. Plans were not readily known for Easyfromthegitgo (5th), Booklet (12th), and Equality (13th).

Preakness pools at Churchill pay less

For the second year in a row, Churchill Downs offered a separate pool for Preakness betting, and prices there were in several cases lower than prices in the commingled pool, despite a lower takeout at Churchill than at Pimlico.

Bettors on War Emblem in the Churchill Downs pool got 20 cents less on their place and show bets than the commingled bettors. Bettors on Magic Weisner, however, got $36.40 to place at Churchill and $15 to show, compared to $33 and $14 in the commingled pool. Proud Citizen paid 20 cents less to show at Churchill.

The exacta paid more at Churchill ($345.60) than at Pimlico, but the trifecta was $47.80 lower and the superfecta $1,156.50 lower. John Asher, Churchill's vice president of racing, speculated that the superfecta paid less at Churchill because two Kentucky-based horses, Proud Citizen and Harlan's Holiday, finished third and fourth.

Asher said the track offered the separate pool because "it's a hair better for us financially," as well as to give bettors another option for wagering.

Harlan's Holiday to aim for Travers

Harlan's Holiday, seventh as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in Saturday's Preakness, will skip the Belmont Stakes and be pointed to the Travers on Aug. 24 at Saratoga, trainer Ken McPeek said.

"We're going to give him a break, and our long-term goal will be the Travers and perhaps the Breeders' Cup in the fall," McPeek said.

McPeek said he felt Harlan's Holiday ran well in the Preakness, beaten by only three lengths by War Emblem. McPeek said Harlan's Holiday may have been feeling the effects from a hard winter and early spring campaign, in which he won the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes after running second in the Holy Bull Stakes and Fountain of Youth.

"I know [jockey] Edgar [Prado] thinks the horse was a little stronger this winter," McPeek said. "The Florida Derby was the most powerful race he had, and it was his third race of the year, and there's something to be said for that. He thinks if the horse is given a little rest he'll come back to himself and he could be the best 3-year-old in the country."

- additional reporting by David Grening