TEN 3-Year-Olds Gun for Monarchos

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos had just completed another solid gallop over the Pimlico Race Course and trainer John Ward was back at the Preakness stakes barn discussing the rigors of the Triple Crown trail.

``You've got a big red X painted on you in the Preakness because you are the Derby winner and everyone is going to be looking for you,'' Ward said Wednesday morning after Monarchos' second 1 1/2-mile gallop this week.

``But that's the fun of it. Otherwise, we'd have a Triple Crown winner almost every year.''

And racing fans are well aware Triple Crowns have been few and far between, although there have been close calls in recent years. Affirmed was the 11th and last Triple Crown champion, winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978.

Should Monarchos win the $1 million Preakness on Saturday, thoroughbred racing will have a Triple Crown contender for the fourth time in five years entering the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in '98 and Charismatic in '99 all lost in the Belmont after winning the Derby and Preakness.

For Ward, the 1 3-16th-mile Preakness presents the biggest hurdle.

``I'm not as cocky as I was in the Derby,'' Ward said. ``If he gets past this one, he has a legitimate chance to win the next one.''

Trainer Bob Baffert agrees.

``If he gets this one, he'll be looking really good,'' Baffert said. ``He's coming off a huge effort, so this will be a tough one.''

But first things first for Ward. The 55-year-old third generation horseman has carefully mapped out a Triple Crown gameplan for Monarchos that featured jogs and gallops during Derby and Preakness weeks without the traditional three, four or five-furlong blowout most trainers prefer.

``We're just filling up the tank,'' Ward said, adding that Monarchos will gallop again Thursday and jog Friday to close out his Preakness prep work.

Also, Monarchos arrived at Pimlico last week because Ward believes the colt runs better when he's settled in as opposed to showing up just before a big race.

In his only loss in five starts this year _ a second to Congaree in the Wood Memorial at on April 24 _ Monarchos arrived at Aqueduct a few days before the race. He won three in a row while based at Gulfstream Park, including the Florida Derby, and won the Kentucky Derby after spending several weeks at Churchill Downs.

``He's fit and he's comfortable, that's all we can ask,'' Ward said after he chose the No. 7 post in Wednesday night's draw for post positions in the field of 11 3-year-olds.

Congaree, third in the Derby, and Point Given, who was fifth, are both set to challenge Monarchos again. The Baffert-trained duo shipped in from Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday along with Dollar Bill, who was 15th in the Derby. A P Valentine, seventh in the Derby, will also run, making it five of 17 Derby starters returning for the Preakness.

Like Ward said before the Derby, Congaree scares him the most.

``I fear Congaree,'' the trainer said. ``I've got to fear the only horse that's beat me.''

Monarchos, with Jorge Chavez aboard, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite with Congaree at 5-2 and Point Given 3-1.

Congaree will also have a new jockey in Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, who replaces Victor Espinoza.

``That adds a new dimension to him, a new tactical side you've got to fear,'' Ward said.

Bailey helped break in Congaree at Saratoga, but because of other commitments was unable to ride him until now. In the Derby, Bailey rode Talk Is Money, who was pulled up in the stretch and did not finish.

``Congaree was Jerry's horse early,'' Baffert said. ``Victor was just filling in for him.''

The field features six 3-year-olds who did not compete in the Derby, including expected pacesetter Richly Blended, winner of the Withers at Aqueduct on May 5, and Percy Hope, winner of the Lone Star Derby on April 7.

Other newcomers to the Triple Crown trail are Mr. John, Bay Eagle, Marciano and Griffinite.

Mr. John, trained by Elliott Walden, finished second to Keats in the Lexington Stakes, but was disqualified to eighth.

Griffinite, placed second in the Lexington after finishing second, is trained by Jennifer Leigh-Pederson _ the ninth female to saddle a Preakness starter.

The field, from the rail out with jockeys and odds: Marciano (Mark Johnston, 30-1); Mr. John (Corey Nakatani, 20-1); Griffinite (Shaun Bridgmohan, 50-1), A P Valentine (Espinoza, 10-1); Congaree (Bailey, 5-2); Richly Blended (Rick Wilson, 10-1); Monarchos (Chavez, 2-1); Percy Hope (Jon Court, 50-1); Bay Eagle (Ramon Dominguez, 30-1); Dollar Bill (Pat Day, 12-1); and Point Given (Gary Stevens, 3-1).