Timber Country, Pat Day

Jockey Pat Day raises up off the saddle as he crosses the finish line aboard Timber Country after winning the 120th running of the Preakness Stakes. (Sun photo by Gene Sweeney / May 20, 1995)

D. Wayne Lukas' grip on the Triple Crown gathered strength once again in Baltimore yesterday, when Timber Country's stalled career got back on track with a win in the 120th Preakness.The chestnut colt, called the "Big Red Train" by Thunder Gulch jockey Gary Stevens, swooped by his Kentucky Derby-winning stablemate at the sixteenth pole under jockey Pat Day, then held off a surprise late run on the rail by Maryland-bred champion Oliver's Twist.

The victory derailed Thunder Gulch's attempt to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner, but gave Lukas his fourth consecutive win in a Triple Crown race, equaling the mark of retired trainer Lucien Laurin. Lukas' roll began in Baltimore last year, when he won the Preakness with Tabasco Cat. He followed that with a win by the "Cat" in the Belmont Stakes and came out running this year with Thunder Gulch in the Derby.

Yesterday's surprise move by local jockey Alberto Delgado on the Billy Boniface-trained Oliver's Twist stirred many local fans.

Not since Boniface won with Deputed Testamony in 1983 has a Maryland-bred come so close to winning the Preakness.

"I saw that horse on the inside," said Day. "Once my horse [Timber Country] got in front, he loafed. He wasn't giving 110 percent. But we could have gone around two more times and he [Oliver's Twist] still wouldn't have beat me."

Timber Country won by a half-length, running the 1 3/16 miles in 1 minute, 54 2/5 seconds, a second off the stakes mark and the 11th fastest Preakness since it has been run at the current distance.

It was the fourth Preakness win for Lukas and Day.

Boniface thought his horse, sent off a 25-1 long shot compared with 9-5 favored Timber Country, ran a winning race.

"If he [Oliver's Twist] goes out a little earlier or gets out a little sooner, we're a winner," Boniface said.

Delgado saved ground the entire trip but was blocked in midstretch between tiring front-runners Star Standard and Talkin Man. When he forged his way between them, it was too late.

Day already had opened up a daylight advantage.

"He didn't see Timber Country," Boniface said about Oliver's Twist. "He saw the Derby winner [Thunder Gulch] next to him. The Derby winner was not going to get by him, no way. The horse that beat him was out of sight of his blinker."

But it didn't matter. This Preakness, like last year's, belonged to Lukas and Day.

Until yesterday, it had been a frustrating few months for the trainer-jockey pair. Timber Country won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall and was the country's best 2-year-old, but in four races this spring leading to the Preakness, he failed to live up to expectations.

The Breeders' Cup jinx had held up in the Kentucky Derby when Timber Country finished third, more than two lengths behind Thunder Gulch. No winner of the Juvenile in the 11-year history of the Breeders' Cup had come back as a 3-year-old and won a Triple Crown race . . . . until yesterday.

"I told Pat, 'Make things happen,' " Lukas said. "We can go through a period of adjustment, but it's time to fish or cut bait. This is the 2-year-old champion. We can't keep taking him over there and finishing third."

That's exactly what Day did. He tapped the horse with his whip in the post parade, warmed him up more than usual and then whacked the lethargic colt a couple of more times with his whip leaving the starting gate.

But the drama started before the actual break.

The lightly regarded Texas colt, Itron, the first to load in the gate, became fractious and flipped, throwing off jockey Ricky Frazier and delaying the start about 2 1/2 minutes. The horse was backed riderless out of the gate and examined by veterinarian David Zipf for injury before he was allowed to be reloaded and start.