Our biggest Preakness heartache/disappointment
This week, we're strolling down memory lane to revisit several Preaknesses that hold special personal meaning for us. Our second "team blog" looks back at the Preakness that brought us the biggest heartache and/or disappointment. You can read the first installment, our favorite Preaknesses, here.
Vance Hanson: Barbaro's breakdown in the early stages of the 2006 Preakness will always be one of the darker moments in Preakness history, and in the history of the Triple Crown in general. Not only did the injury and its complications eventually claim the colt's life, on a less important level it denied the sport the possibility of an incredible rivalry between him and the immensely talented Bernardini, who went on to dominate the division the rest of that season. Aside from that tragedy, perhaps the most disappointing Preakness performance for me was Sea Hero's in 1993. Under a marvelous ride by Jerry Bailey, the dark son of Polish Navy had given long-time turf patron Paul Mellon his first Kentucky Derby win at the age of 85. I had backed him enthusiastically that day and hoped he would give Mellon his first win in the Preakness as well (Mellon had already owned two Belmont winners). Although I was keenly aware of his inconsistency, as were bettors who made him only the 4-1 third choice in the Preakness, it was still hard to watch Sea Hero show so little over the Pimlico track. He wound up losing by more than eight lengths, finishing behind four horses he had easily defeated at Churchill Downs as well as Cherokee Run, a future champion sprinter. Sea Hero was an enigma -- a horse who rose to great heights a few times during his racing career, but was not quite championship caliber compared to others that previously raced in the famous gray and yellow Rokeby Stable colors.
Kellie Reilly: The 2006 Preakness was a heartbreaker on several levels -- most of all, the sight of the majestic Barbaro being pulled up with a catastrophic injury. As he stood there, patiently awaiting the horse ambulance, there was the inevitable dread that this might be life-threatening. Barbaro's inordinate strength, good nature, and intelligence, combined with the dedication of the Jacksons, and the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Dean Richardson and the team at New Bolton, extended his life for eight months, but could not save him from the deadly complication of laminitis. On top of the grief of losing a brilliant Kentucky Derby winner, the "what ifs" are torturous. What if Barbaro hadn't broken through the gate prior to the start of the Preakness? Was that an irrelevant coincidence, or a factor in his breakdown? Was he examined well enough before reloading? There was a highly regarded new shooter in Bernardini, the eventual winner -- would Barbaro have met his challenge, or met his match? And if Barbaro had prevailed in the Preakness, would he have gone on to sweep the Triple Crown? Who could have denied him in the Belmont, dominated as it was by horses he'd beaten in the Derby? Could Barbaro have been the 12th Triple Crown winner? We'll never know because of that fateful day at Pimlico.
Ed DeRosa: My assignment at the 2006 Preakness was to write about the winning owner. Like many, I expected to be writing about Roy and Gretchen Jackson going for the Triple Crown with their homebred Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. That plan went out the window before the horses hit the first turn when Barbaro pulled up at 1-2. I remember consciously making the decision to watch the rest of the race unfold past the wire before rushing down to the racetrack itself. As Bernardini was being led into the winner's circle in front of me, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, jockey Edgar Prado, and Jockeys' Guild representative Darrell Haire were to my right standing with Barbaro right in front of the clubhouse at about the seven-eighths pole. The grief on their face was undeniable, and it was impossible not to feel for them. Everything about the rest of that day was subdued: the press conference after the race was muted, and the post-race party outside the stakes barn turned into a Q&A with veterinarians as Barbaro headed to New Bolton (with many turf writers in pursuit shortly thereafter). I didn't feel like eating, and my normally voracious appetite for Baltimore's food scene settled on Applebee's for dinner. The Kentucky Derby winner had broken down in the Preakness, and it broke all our hearts.
James Scully: When it comes to heartbreak in the Preakness, Barbaro's breakdown in 2006 still resonates -- there was such a sense of anticipation following the unbeaten colt's 6 1/2-length Kentucky Derby romp and it turned out to a very somber day, indeed. From a betting standpoint, I'll mention a couple examples. I was convinced Sea Hero was going to win the 1993 Preakness, made a $100 win wager from my Kentucky Derby profits and watched him deliver a clunker (well-beaten fifth) that was so synonymous with his up-and-down career. Sea Hero captured the Champagne, Kentucky Derby and Travers but was unplaced in six other stakes attempts during the same timespan. In 2013, I recognized Oxbow's underrated sixth-place Kentucky Derby effort -- he was the only horse close to the insane early pace to finish in the same area code of the winner -- and tabbed him as a live Preakness longshot, selecting him second behind Orb. I boxed Orb and Oxbow in the exacta, and played a pair of trifecta wheels keying both horses (Orb/Oxbow with Orb/Oxbow with all; and Orb/Oxbow with all with Orb/Oxbow). Oxbow paid $32.80 to win, but I didn't cash a ticket with Orb finishing fourth. As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!"
(Barbaro Photo: Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images)