BALTIMORE — The unsung hero of the Preakness Stakes may have been Craig Perret.
"I'd like to locate the jockey on Groovy (Perret) and kiss him," Carl Grinstead said early Sunday morning at Pimlico, about 12 hours after Snow Chief, the 3-year-old colt he bred in California, won the Preakness by four lengths.
Although Groovy finished last in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, running almost 50 lengths behind the victorious Ferdinand, he was center of any strategy in the Preakness. Perret, who had ridden Groovy before, was back on the speed-crazy colt after Laffit Pincay had rode him in the Derby.
These were some of the pre-Preakness questions:
Would Groovy run the first part of the Preakness in the same ridiculously fast fractions that he had in the Derby?
Would Snow Chief try to run with him, and risk not having enough reserve stamina for the stretch drive?
Would any of the other five horses try to stalk Groovy and Snow Chief, to prevent them from stealing the race?
As it turned out, Groovy did go to the lead as expected, but he didn't run as fast here as he did in Louisville. The first half-mile of the Preakness was covered in :47 2/5. At Churchill Downs, Groovy was clocked more than two seconds faster. Groovy did six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 in the Derby; on Saturday, his reading was 1:11.
"When I saw that :47 2/5 Saturday, I got confident," said Grinstead, the Chula Vista man who owns Snow Chief in partnership with Ben Rochelle of Beverly Hills. "If Groovy had thrown another :45 at us, I would have been worried."
Alex Solis, riding Snow Chief, was able to stay close to Groovy with his horse not having to expend too much energy. It was an easy, early pace, and when Solis really asked Snow Chief to accelerate, turning for home, nobody, including Ferdinand, was able to catch them.
The horses behind Groovy and Snow Chief should have all been closer in the early going. After a half-mile, Ferdinand trailed Groovy by 13 1/2 lengths; Badger Land, who went off the favorite while coupled in the betting with Clear Choice, was 9 1/2 lengths back.
The jockeys of the five trailers had various excuses for their poor positions. Bill Shoemaker, aboard Ferdinand, said the horse wasn't handling Pimlico's dull, cuppy surface and he couldn't get the colt to move up; Jorge Velasquez didn't think Badger Land was too far back and said his mount stopped after catching up with a rallying Ferdinand at the three-eighths pole; Jacinto Vasquez, riding Clear Choice, sensed the slow pace and went to the whip going down the backside, but his colt didn't respond.
Asked if the other jockeys should have been closer to the position his Snow Chief established, Grinstead sidestepped the question. "I can't speak for other riders," he said. "Sometimes when I say something, you reporters have been known to put it in the paper."
There is the likelihood that Ferdinand and Snow Chief, the winners of the first two Triple Crown races, may not meet again this year. Ferdinand is going on to the last race in the series, the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 7, but then trainer Charlie Whittingham plans to rest the colt for about a month and start him on a grass campaign. Ferdinand is bred for the turf; his sire, Nijinsky II, is a son of 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, but Nijinsky, running strictly on grass, lost only two races in his career in Europe.
Grinstead, who calls the shots for Snow Chief, said Sunday that there is a "90% chance" that the colt will run in the $1 million Jersey Derby at Garden State Park a week from today. A win in the Jersey Derby would make Snow Chief eligible for a $1 million bonus that goes to a horse who wins two more New Jersey races, at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, later this summer. Although Snow Chief has been in training since last July, Mel Stute has an ambitious campaign in mind, races that include the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September and the Hollywood Derby at the end of the year.
The other 10% of Grinstead's thinking doesn't include the Belmont. "If we ran him a mile and a half (the Belmont distance) at this stage, it would take away from him later," Stute said. "A mile and a half now would dull his speed."
It's also not likely that Snow Chief will run in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. Because Snow Chief and his sire, Reflected Glory, weren't nominated to the series, it would cost the Preakness winner's owners a supplementary fee of $600,000 to run in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
The winner of the race earns $1.35 million. "If you'd win, you'd only get about 2-1 odds for your money, and you could do better than that on the tote board," Grinstead said. "If some people want to pay my supplementary fee, I'd split the purse with them, but I don't think anybody will take me up on it. Unless something hits me hard and I begin to lose my marbles, we won't run in the Breeders' Cup."
Grinstead said he "didn't bet a dime" on Snow Chief in the Preakness. Stute, however, cashed a bet on the Snow Chief-Ferdinand exacta, which paid $35 for $2.
At Snow Chief's barn Sunday morning, Whittingham and Larry Gilligan, Ferdinand's exercise rider, came over to congratulate Stute. Gilligan will remain with Ferdinand in New York while Whittingham returns to his stable at Hollywood Park.
"Congratulations, mate," Gilligan said, shaking Stute's hand. "Can I borrow something to get me out of town?"