While Tank's Prospect, the well-traveled winner of the Preakness Stakes, made his way back to New York in a van, trainer Wayne Lukas sat in the track kitchen at Pimlico Race Course Sunday morning and talked about challenging Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck in next Monday's $1-million Jersey Derby at Garden State Park.
Lukas won't be sending Tank's Prospect after Spend a Buck--the Jersey Derby comes much too soon after the Preakness--but either Huddle Up or Image of Greatness is likely to run in Garden State's 1-mile race.
Huddle Up, owned by Gene Klein, the owner of Tank's Prospect, has been a Lukas favorite since he flashed potential late last year in New York, but has had difficulty winning in Arkansas and California. Image of Greatness, owned by George Steinbrenner, won the San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita this year but was no match for Spend a Buck at Garden State on April 6, finishing far back in the mile Cherry Hill Handicap.
"This is a damn good crop of 3-year-olds," Lukas said. "Tank's Prospect is going to get beat, Spend a Buck's going to get beat, and good horses like Chief's Crown and Stephan's Odyssey are going to win some races before it's all over.
"I think we should salute Spend a Buck for his win in the Kentucky Derby. But I'm looking forward to meeting him again. I'm of the John Nerud school when it comes to championships--they're won in the fall, not in in the spring."
Nerud is the president of Tartan Farm, whose Codex supplied Lukas with his first Preakness win in 1980. In winning Saturday, Tank's Prospect set a Preakness record of 1:53 2/5 for the 1 3/16 miles, breaking the mark of 1:53 3/5 that Gate Dancer established last year. Unofficially, though, Secretariat was said to have run the 1973 Preakness in 1:53 2/5, although that was the day that Pimlico's timer apparently malfunctioned, resulting in a listed time of 1:54 2/5.
Tank's Prospect is scheduled to run in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8, a race that is not on Spend a Buck's schedule because it comes too soon after the Jersey Derby.
"I have no reservations about this horse going a mile and a half, although you never know until a horse tries it," Lukas said. "Whether he'll step on his tongue or not, you just don't know. He's a heavily muscled horse, and to do a mile and a half he's got to carry that muscle."
The Belmont, which will be Tank's Prospect's seventh start this year, will also be his sixth different race track. Besides appearing at Santa Anita twice, he has also run at Bay Meadows (winning the El Camino Real Derby), Oaklawn Park (first in the Arkansas Derby), Churchill Downs (seventh in the Kentucky Derby) and Pimlico.
Chief's Crown, run down in the stretch by Tank's Prospect to lose by a head in the next-to-last jump, also left Pimlico Sunday for New York, where he'll be trained by Roger Laurin for the Belmont.
"He ran a much better race in the Preakness than he did in the Derby (when he finished third)," Laurin said. "But the other guy (Tank's Prospect) just ran better."
Laurin found little consolation in the fact that Chief's Crown unofficially broke the Preakness record, too.
"Just like Sham," Laurin said. "But nobody remembers that part."
When Secretariat, who was trained by Lucien Laurin, Roger's father, set the Kentucky Derby record in 1973, runner-up Sham also ran fast enough to top the old mark.
Plans are unknown for Eternal Prince, who finished third after supplying the early speed in the Preakness.
"Several people own this horse, and that complicates things," trainer Butch Lenzini said. "We're looking at four races, one of which is the Belmont."
Horses that didn't run in the Preakness but were waiting in New York to run in the Belmont include Stephan's Odyssey, who was second, 5 lengths behind Spend a Buck, in the Kentucky Derby, and Proud Truth, fifth in the Derby.
A thrilling finish with a quality horse winning seems to have taken some of the pressure off the Preakness, which was under fire this year because it didn't have Spend a Buck.
"I can't criticize the Spend a Buck people for going for a $2-million bonus in the Jersey Derby," Lukas said. "But the Preakness is 110 years old, and it's bigger than any one horse. I think even Mr. (Bob) Brennan (chairman of the board of Garden State Park) is surprised that he put up a $2-million bonus (for winning three Garden State races and the Kentucky Derby) and a horse comes along and has a chance to win it the first year. It might not happen again in another 100 years."