BALTIMORE -- When this 3-year-old racing season began, Prairie Bayou's stablemates got all the consideration for the Kentucky Derby as he went about his way. If no one in this demeaned season made anybody see visions of Secretariat, this was a horse that didn't even make his own owner and trainer forget they also had Dalhart and Marked Tree.
As Prairie Bayou won a couple prep races under two jockeys, both talked about the wonderful response they received in the late going from a horse that wasn't exactly the most athletic they had ridden.
This endorsement did not have the earmarks of a Triple Crown winner. The Kentucky Derby is supposed to reward the breeders and the athletes of thoroughbred racing. The Preakness is supposed to reward speed. The Belmont rewards endurance and maybe there, Prairie Bayou's closing kick could come in handy.
When the Kentucky Derby came and somebody in this ambivalent looking 3-year-old class had to be the favorite so it was Prairie Bayou, who had managed to win four straight races despite coming form Loblolly Stable's second string of horses. Sometimes at his barn, the Kentucky-bred son of Little Missouri would even be called 'Prairie Dog' by horsemen who didn't know they were grooming an eventual Triple Crown race winner.
After Prairie Bayou finished the Kentucky Derby second as the beaten favorite, the victor Sea Hero immediately got consideration as a Triple Crown threat because the Belmont Stakes already shaped up as his race. Sea Hero is based at Belmont, the Derby made him look likely to last the mile and a half distance at Belmont and it was on that track that Sea Hero won the Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old.
Before the Belmont, though, came the Preakness, which to Sea Hero trainer Mack Miller represented a trickier test for his horse. Given that and the fact that Prairie Bayou again was the favorite in the second leg of the Triple Crown, it wasn't a surprise that he won the Preakness.
Maybe though it's the first time it wasn't a surprise.
'This horse was not one of the lot that would jump out at you,' owner John Ed Anthony said.
He is not one to jump out figuratively or literally. As Sea Hero's chances for the Triple Crown ended with a fifth-place finish, Prairie Bayou's closing ability spelled the end for Cherokee Run in the slowest Preakness in 25 years. Front-runner Personal Hope bled for the first time in his career and finished fourth as he did in the Derby.
'He bled bad yesterday,' Personal Hope trainer Mark Hennig said Sunday. 'He's a gutsy son of a gun. I don't know how many horses would have tried like that. He was still digging in, trying to get El Bakan for third,' he said of the 51-1 show horse.
Hennig said Personal Hope will not run in New York and will train lightly for about a month. Hennig said if the Santa Anita Derby winner had ever bled before, he would have had Personal Hope run the Preakness on Lasix.
The anti-bleeding medication is not allowed in New York, presenting a tremendous test to El Bakan. Undefeated in Panama, El Bakan ran 18th out of 19th in the Kentucky Derby without Lasix and finished third his first time on the drug, which is alleged by many to enhance performance.
Too Wild also bled and finished 11th in the 12-horse field but he was a 60-1 shot to begin with. The only horse not ahead of Too Wild was the doomed Union City, who broke down and had to be destroyed by lethal injection after he broke down with compound fractures and torn tendons and ligaments in his right ankle. The death of D. Wayne Lukas's horse was the first fatality in a Triple Crown race in 34 years.
Cherokee Run and Sea Hero had both used Lasix in their two previous races in Kentucky, which allows any horse to use the medication. Neither are bleeders, though, and Maryland only allows veterinarian-certified bleeders to race on Lasix, which New York bans.
Cherokee Run trainer Frank Alexander said Sunday that his horse came out of the race looking good and Miller said Sea Hero didn't take to the track at Pimlico so both are likely headed for Belmont.
'The surface was drying out and getting loose,' Miller said. 'He never got a hold of it. We won the big one, though.'
Anthony, who had his second straight Preakness winner after Pine Bluff won last year, won't argue.
'I wish we could have gotten the job done at Louisville,' he said.
But with a second-place finish in the Derby, Prairie Bayou more than Sea Hero looks like one likely to become the 40th horse listed as a near-miss to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner by winning two legs.
Twelve of the 39 horses who have won two legs finished second in the race they lost. The last was Sunday Silence, who won the Derby and Preakness before losing the 1989 Belmont to Easy Goer.
'I'm not concerned about the distance of the Belmont,' Prairie Bayou trainer Tom Bohannan said. 'His sire won the Brooklyn there, going the mile and a half. I took him to New York after the Derby and he trained very well there.'
Before he resumes, though, Prairie Bayou will get a couple of days of rest, Bohannan said.
'He earned it,' said the trainer, who also pointed out after the Preakness that Prairie Bayou has earned some overdue praise from the disparaging 1993 racing world.
'I think he's a very, very nice horse,' Bohannan said. 'He proved that he's the most honest 3-year-old out of all of them.'