Prairie Bayou escaped a near brush with disaster yesterday and won the first Preakness Stakes in modern times in which a horse suffered a fatal injury. The death of Union City, who had to be humanely destroyed after fracturing sesamoid bones in his right front ankle, shrouded the achievement of Loblolly Stable, which seems jinxed in the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness for the second time in two years. The race also marked the defeat of Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, who finished fifth and squelched any chance of a 1993 Triple Crown winner.
Union City, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, almost collided with Prairie Bayou when he was injured midway down the backstretch.
At the time, Prairie Bayou, ridden by Mike Smith, was starting his move along the inside rail about 14 lengths off the pace and was moving up from 10th place to his eventual victory.
"I was lucky enough to miss him; he broke down right in front of me," Smith said of Union City. "When horses break down and fall, they usually fall right or left. But he stayed straight and I ducked around him at the last second."
The death of Union City marred the 118th running of the Preakness, but it was not the first fatality in a Triple Crown race. In 1959, Black Hills broke his leg in the Belmont Stakes and was destroyed.
In 1985, Hajji's Treasure broke down in the Preakness, but recovered and retired to stud. In 1909, a horse named Statesman broke down in the Preakness and according to the chart of the race, finished "on three legs." There was no indication if the animal was destroyed.
Prairie Bayou's victory, before a crowd of 85,495, was the second straight Preakness win for the Loblolly Stable of John Ed Anthony, of Hot Springs, Ark., and his ex-wife Mary Lynn Dudley of Little Rock, Ark. They also won last year with Pine Bluff. In both instances the Loblolly horses were the Preakness favorites.
"It is an overwhelming feeling, something I'll be proud of for my whole life," Anthony said. "And we're going to try to win it a third time."
Prairie Bayou is the first gelding to win the Preakness since 1914, and the sixth overall.
Anthony said the horse was gelded as a yearling because he was too heavy in his front end. "He wasn't gelded because he was hard to handle or unruly," the owner said. "He was from the first crop of his sire [Little Missouri and out of a mare [Whiffling] that couldn't run much, so it wasn't a difficult decision."
Prairie Bayou's eventful journey began when Smith took him right to the rail and saved ground almost immediately after breaking from the No. 3 post. Early on, the horse trailed pace-setters Personal Hope and El Bakan, running ahead of only Too Wild and Wild Gale in the 12-horse field.
Smith still was hugging the rail and was beginning to pick up horses on the backstretch when jockey Pat Valenzuela pulled up Union City.
By the time Prairie Bayou reached the final turn, Smith moved him between horses and swung him three horses wide in the stretch.
Under steady right-handed whipping, Prairie Bayou rallied on the outside, caught Cherokee Run near the eighth pole and defeated him by a half-length. El Bakan, a 51-1 long shot, came on again in the stretch after pressing Personal Hope for the lead and finished third, a neck in front of the tiring Personal Hope.
Gary Stevens on Personal Hope set a moderate pace, getting the first quarter in 23 2/5 seconds, the half-mile in 46 4/5 seconds, six furlongs in 1:11 1/5 and the mile in 1:37. After that he was passed at the top of the stretch by Cherokee Run, who held on gamely until passed by Prairie Bayou. The final time for the 1 3/16th mile race was 1:56 3/5, the slowest running in 25 years. The record is 1:53 2/5 set by Tank's Prospect in 1985.
"I didn't push the accelerator all the way down," said Smith, 27. It was the jockey's first win in a Triple Crown race after eight tries.
"The horse broke really well," Smith said. "He switched leads and took me places during the race instead of me asking him to run. When I wheeled him on out [at the top of the stretch], I just kept busy on him. He played cat and mouse with that other horse [Cherokee Run] near the wire. I could have won by more than a half-length, but I wanted to keep something in reserve since we have another race [the Belmont, June 5] coming up."
Cherokee Run, trained by former Marylander Frank Alexander, was ridden by Pat Day.
"I thought my horse ran terrific," Alexander said. "He was very game. The post position [No. 12] I don't think hurt him. He just never stopped. He was coming back at the other horse."
Jerry Bailey, who rode the well-beaten Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, said his horse "just didn't grab the bridle. He was climbing and just wasn't there today."
For Mike Smith, the Preakness completed a Pimlico rout. He won the Black-Eyed Susan and Early Times Dixie stakes on Friday on Aztec Hill and Lure, respectively.
Last year Chris McCarron pulled off a Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness double on Miss Legality and Pine Bluff.
For Prairie Bayou, the Preakness was the fifth win in his past six starts, including a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby, where he had trouble switching leads and went wide.
"He is a very honest horse," Anthony said. "I hope he is around as long as John Henry [the champion gelding] and eclipses his Eclipses."
IN THE MONEY
The earnings for win, place and show bets at yesterday's Preakness:
HORSE .. .. .. Win .. .. .. .. Place .. .. .. .. Show
Prairie Bayou.. .. .. .. .. $6.40 .. .. .. $3.60 .. .. .. .. $3.40
Cherokee Run .. .. .. .. .. . $7.20 .. .. .. .. $5.20
El Bakan .. .. ... ... ... .. .. .. .. .. .. . $14.60