No Sweet Revenge for Dancer in Preakness

Production problems compelled Miss Greenhouse to compose her predictions on Wednesday of this week before we knew Dancer's Image's status, the final starting roster and post positions She, and we, therefore beg your indulgence.)

Any horse who fancies himself a Kentucky Derby contender should stay out of my sight. I am the kiss of death. Last year I had two pre-Derby sure things. One, Dr. Isby, came in from California with the best jockey in Derby history, finished eleventh, and has not been heard from since. The other, Reason to Hail, managed a fourth-place finish, struggled nobly through the other Triple Crown events, and died prematurely before his fourth birthday.

And this year there was Dancer's Image.

Even people who confused the Kentucky Derby with the roller derby know by this time the sad story of Dancer's Image: how he roared through the stretch to beat the favored Forward Pass by a length and a half only to be disqualified three days later because his post-race urinalysis had shown a trace of the illegal painkilling drug phenylbutazone.

If Dancer's Image were human he would have spent the two weeks between the Derby and tomorrow's Preakness plotting his revenge, just waiting for the chance to meet Forward Pass--now the official Derby winner -- again and set the record straight. If the Dancer does win tomorrow down in Maryland it will be the most popular victory in the 93-year history of this middle leg of the Triple Crown--popular in Massachusetts where he is owned, and popular in Maryland where he was sired by the great Native Dancer.

But Dancer's Image is only a horse, a smallish three-year-old gray colt to whom the Preakness is just another mile and three-sixteenths of punishment to his chronically sore front ankles. And, poetic justice though it might be, he is not likely to give his fans the revenge they are expecting at Pimlico tomorrow.

Instead, I'll call the Preakness for Forward Pass, the Derby favorite who got his shot at the Triple Crown by the back door of the stewards' office. There are two reasons for such iconoclasm; one has to do with racing and the other with racing luck.

Forward Pass is a front runner, a horse who goes for the lead right away, tiring himself by fighting for it if he has to or staying in front all the way if he does not. The more early speed there is in a race, the better it is for the come-from-behind horses like Dancer's Image who save ground and energy by running far back along the rail until they start to race in earnest for home. For pace handicapping, the Derby field was a textbook case. Forward Pass fought all the way with two speed demons named Kemucky Sherry and Captain's Gig, clearing the way for Dancer's Image to romp the last half-mile in the exceedingly leisurely time of 50 seconds.

Neither of those pace-setters will be in the Preakness tomorrow, and Forward Pass should be virtually unchallenged in the early running. The Preakness is the shortest of the Triple Crown events, and Dancer's Image will have a half-furlong less in which to make his move. His trainer knows that, of course, and perhaps for that reason sent the horse on an unusually short and speedy workout Tuesday. But strongly in Forward Pass favor is the surprisingly mediocre quality of the rest of the Preakness field, which includes several outrageous longshots and little apparent speed to take the place of Kentucky Sherry.

France's Hat-likely to be closest to Forward Pass and Dancer's Image, is a strong late-runner who has started running too late this year to yet win a single race. He was third in the Derby. Iron Ruler, who on occasion has early speed, ran so dismally in the Derby that he would have to be discounted even if he had not already lost several other races to Forward Pass and Dancer's Image. Sir Beau, Out of the Way, and Dancer's Image's half-brother Jig Time are all late-runners who have yet to prove their worth against top company. Martin's Jig finished fifth in his last start, at a mile. Wood-Pro has won once in two years. Nodouble, a supplementary entry at $10,000, is unbeaten this year but against much lesser opposition. I have never heard of either Ringmaster or Poleax, for what they are worth, which is probably not much.

As for the second factor in Forward Pass' favor, racing luck--every horse needs it. In the Derby, simply, Dancer's Image had it and Forward Pass did not. The two drew post position twelve and thirteen in the fourteen-horse field, and the handicap of an outside post is much greater to a speed horse, who will fight for the lead around the first turn, than to a horse like Dancer's Image who will be dropped back along the rail regardless of position. Forward Pass' connections calculate that the post position cost him two lengths. He lost by a length and a half.

Preakness positions are not assigned yet, but luck figures in other ways. Dancer's Image was extremely lucky when the tiring Captain's Gig bore out in the stretch and let him get through on the rail. Generally, a horse out in front is a horse out of trouble. That is where Forward Pass will be. The Dancer's revenge would be sweet indeed. But if he has to wait for the longer and more prestigious Belmont to squelch Forward Pass' Triple Crown hopes, it will be sweeter still. The Belmont may be another story.

At the Preakness Wire

1. Forward Pass

2. Dancer's Image

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