Lil Fear of Derby Winner : Big Field Set for Challenge in Preakness

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jockey Pat Day refers to Lynn Whiting, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee, as a "horse psychologist."

After riding Lil E. Tee for a half-mile workout at Pimlico on Wednesday, their first hookup since they scored a 16-1 upset at Churchill Downs on May 2, Day said: "Lynnie understands what goes on between a horse's ears."

It's a good thing Lil E. Tee doesn't understand the gossip going around, or he would really need a psychologist. Despite beating 17 other 3-year-olds in the Derby, there has been no pedestal erected here as Lil E. Tee shoots for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, on Saturday.

Few Derby winners have come to the Preakness with less respect. Sonny Hine, the trainer of Technology, the 10th-place finisher in the Derby, doesn't even think Lil E. Tee will be favored in the Preakness. "He might be the third or fourth choice," Hine said.

Lil E. Tee's 1 1/4-mile time of 2:04 was so slow in the Derby that Churchill Downs, agreeing with the Daily Racing Form, concluded that a timing error was made. The time has been officially changed to 2:03, but despite that full-second concession, only one Derby--Alysheba's 2:03 2/5 in 1987--has been run slower out of the last 16 that have been run over fast tracks.

Lil E. Tee's one-length victory in the Derby has been deprecated so much that 13 horses are lining up for Saturday, when the Preakness will have the largest field since Personality beat a baker's dozen here in 1970. There might have been even more but for Pimlico's rule that limits the field to 14 based on highest earnings.

Whiting, who was 52 and training for 24 years before he won his first Triple Crown race, is unfazed by the pejoratives that have been flying in Lil E. Tee's direction. "When I'm 100 years old," Whiting said, "I'll still have my old Derby jacket, and I'll be able to walk in the track kitchen and tell the young guys how I did it."

Lil E. Tee did it with a guileful ride from Day, a Hall of Fame jockey who had been blanked in nine previous Derby tries. Day kept Lil E. Tee on his feet after they ran up on the heels of the Irish horse, Thyer, going into the first turn. He didn't panic when the heavily favored Arazi moved past Lil E. Tee on the stretch turn, and Day whipped his colt 15 times to make sure he would outfinish another longshot, Casual Lies, in the last eighth of a mile.

Two days after Lil E. Tee was flown here from Louisville, Day also arrived from Kentucky to work the colt four furlongs in a relaxed :48 2/5. Unlike the Derby, there is no Preakness monkey on Day's back. In 1985, he won the race with Tank's Prospect, the first time he had ever ridden the colt and only his second ride in the Preakness. In 1990, Day won the Preakness again, with Summer Squall. Day also has had two second-place finishes in the Preakness, with Corporate Report last year and with Easy Goer in 1989, when Pat Valenzuela, astride Sunday Silence, outrode Day to the wire in as crunching a finish as the Preakness has had.

"I look for this horse to run a very big race again," Day said of Lil E. Tee. "And I think we'll get the breaks again. The track is smaller here than at Churchill Downs, and 14 horses here might equate with 20 at the other place. And the turns are sharper here, but I don't think they will affect my horse that much. This colt has good tactical speed."

It apparently will take a second Triple Crown victory, piled on top of his Derby victory, for Lil E. Tee to overcome a lifelong rap sheet. W. Cal Partee, the 82-year-old Arkansas businessman who raced horses for 45 years before he won a Derby, is actually the Pennsylvania-bred colt's fourth owner.

Lawrence I. Littman bred Lil E. Tee by mating At The Threshold, the Partee-raced, Whiting-trained colt who was third in the 1984 Derby, with Eileen's Moment, a mare who earned $570 on the track. As a yearling, Lil E. Tee was sent to Florida to be sold.

"We were told that he didn't seem like much of a horse," Littman said. "He had had serious colic (stomach) surgery earlier. We were told that he didn't move well and he wouldn't ever be a race horse."

The only offer Littman got for Lil E. Tee was $2,000, and that came from his blacksmith. Before Lil E. Tee raced as a 2-year-old, he was sold again, for $25,000.

At Calder in Florida last fall, Lil E. Tee made his debut against maidens and ran second. Whiting was interested in the horse who won the race, I'm A Big Leaguer, but unable to close that deal, he turned his attention to Lil E. Tee.

"Lil E. Tee had a lot of leg, a lot of scope," Whiting said. "He had a long back, and a good shoulder on him. We probably could have bought him for $75,000 before he ran that second race."

Lil E. Tee won his second start by 11 1/2 lengths, and that jacked the price to $200,000. "When we made the deal, I told Mr. Partee that he could be anything," Whiting said.

Day has ridden Lil E. Tee ever since, picking up four wins, two seconds and a third in seven starts. Lil E. Tee's biggest victory before the Derby came by one length in the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park near Cincinnati on March 28, but even that performance disappointed Day and Whiting.

"He got a picture-perfect trip," Whiting said, "and on the turn for home we were on the inside when one horse carried all the challengers to the outside. They handed us the race. But just when it was time to call a cab, my horse's ears shot up into space. Pat went to hitting him every place but on the bottom of his feet. I don't think we would have got beat if they had gone around again, but still we had cause for concern."

Three weeks later, Lil E. Tee ran in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Whiting had some bad feelings, because of the way the colt trained before the race, but Lil E. Tee still lost by only a neck to Pine Bluff.

W. Cal Partee has ignored all the detractors. "I'm going to change his name," the owner joked. "He's going to be Big E. Tee now."

Horse Racing Notes

The draw for Preakness post positions is today. Running besides Lil E. Tee are Casual Lies, Dance Floor, Big Sur, Pine Bluff, Technology, Conte Di Savoya, My Luck Runs North, Speakerphone, Agincourt, Careful Gesture, Alydeed, Dash For Dotty and Fortune's Gone. . . . Craig Perret has elected to ride Alydeed, leaving Pine Bluff, the fifth-place finisher in the Derby, to be ridden by Chris McCarron.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°