Last Saturday, a few hours before the 117th running of the Preakness Stakes, a large black cat appeared outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course and immediately began rubbing up against the pant leg of trainer Tom Bohannan. Being a tad superstitious, like most horse trainers. Bohannan became so unnerved that he considered calling track security to have the cat hauled off. Then he remembered that Pine Bluff, the colt he trains for Arkansas lumber magnate John Ed Anthony, already had a bad-luck antidote of sorts: Two weeks ago, before the Kentucky Derby, the horse had been fed 16 four-leaf clovers. Although Pine Bluff struggled home fifth at Churchill Downs, behind Derby winner Lil E. Tee, Bohannan figured there had to be at least a residue of luck remaining in the colt's system.
As it turned out, luck had little to do with Pine Bluff's come-from-behind, three quarters of a length Preakness victory over Alydeed on a cool, misty afternoon in Baltimore. But it had everything to do with the presence of Chris McCarron in the colt's saddle. A week before the Preakness, McCarron had flown in from the West Coast to ride in the Pimlico Special, and he heard through the track grapevine that Pine Bluff might need a rider for the Preakness. Craig Perret, who rode the colt in the Derby, had switched off Pine Bluff to ride Alydeed in the Preakness, and Mike Smith, who had been Bohannan's choice to replace Perret, had agreed to ride Big Sur in the 1 3/16-mile race. McCarron called Bohannan and told him what he had heard. Then he called his agent, Scott McClellan, in California. "Hey," said McCarron, "I'm back here doing your job."
Unusual as it is for a Hall of Fame jockey to be hustling his own mounts, McCarron's initiative paid off when Bohannan told him the next day that he would be delighted to have him ride Pine Bluff. After McCarron got that good news, he chatted up trainer Sonny Hine. McCarron then told McClellan to call Hine, and that call landed him the mount on Hine's filly Miss Legality in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes the day before the Preakness. Miss Legality won, and when McCarron returned to the winner's circle after the Preakness, he became only the 8th jockey to hit that Pimlico double in one weekend. "I was just in the right place at the right time," McCarron said. "That's good, though, because now I don't have to pay my agent his 25 percent." Then he grinned.
In 1974 McCarron was an apprentice on the Maryland circuit, but that was probably not why the Pimlico crowd of 85,294 made Pine Bluff a 7-2 favorite in the 14-horse field on Saturday. There were several other factors recommending the colt: He had outlasted Lil E. Tee to win the April 18 Arkansas Derby; he didn't really get a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby because he was trapped along the rail; and he turned in a sizzling workout (four furlongs in :46[3/5]) on the Tuesday before the Preakness, at New York's Belmont Park. In opting for Pine Bluff, the betting public let Lil E. Tee get away at $4.20 to $1, the highest price on a Derby winner since Proud Clarion was $4.30 to $1 in 1967. The talented Canadian-bred colt Alydeed was the Preakness wild card because his connections had bypassed the Derby, and the $5.40 to $1 third choice.
When the starting gate sprang open, Pine Bluff was banged around fairly severely in the early going, forcing McCarron to check the colt twice and drop back to eighth, some seven lengths behind the pace-setting Speakerphone and fail her back than McCarron wanted to be. However, once McCarron got Pine Bluff relaxed and settled into his free-running style, the colt began picking up horses on the backstretch, moving from eighth to fifth until, at the top of the stretch, he was third behind Alydeed and Dance Floor, the colt owned by rap star Hammer and his family. "At the top of the stretch, I felt I had the two leaders measured," McCarron said, "I looked back to see if Lil E. Tee was coming, and when I didn't see him, I thought, Hot diggety dog!"
Whipping his mount furiously, McCarron moved Pine Bluff past Dance Floor just inside the eighth pole, then took dead aim on Alydeed, whom he passed about 30 yards from the wire to finish in 1:55[3/5]. Alydeed, making only his fifth career start, hung on for second in a promising performance that made Perret feel better about his decision to ride him instead of Pine Bluff. Casual Lies was third, 1½ lengths behind Alydeed, and Dance Floor was fourth. Lil E. Tee, who finished fifth, was revealed to have suffered pulmonary bleeding when he was examined after the race.
When McCarron joined Anthony and Bohannan at the barn hours after the race, the rider was still glowing from his Preakness win. "He put in a long run," McCarron said. "Every time I did a little something different with him, I felt a surge. He did that about six different times during the race."
Pine Bind' is a dark-bay son of Danzig out of the Halo mare Rowdy Angel. "His mother was a terrible racehorse," Anthony says. "Couldn't outrun a fat man." Nevertheless, as the colt was growing up just outside Louisville, he showed so much promise that Anthony decided to name him after the fourth-largest city in Arkansas (pop. 56,000). Anthony has a warm spot in his heart for Pine Bluff because that's where his grandfather built one of his first lumber mills. "When you use a town's name," Anthony says, "you kind of take license, and you hope the name will turn out to be a tribute to the community." Of course Pine Bluff the horse didn't really have much to live up to. A few years ago, when Rand McNally ranked 333 U.S. cities for "livability," Pine Bluff came in dead last. "It's a nice town," says Anthony, "and I'm happy this horse didn't turn out to be a claimer."
Although Anthony runs his Loblolly Stable in partnership with his first wife, Mary Lynn Dudley (they were divorced in 1987 after 27 years of marriage), it was his current wife, Isabel, who was responsible for Pine Bluff's four-leaf clover diet. She found one before the March 28 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and had Bohannan feed it to Pine Bluff, who proceeded to win the race. She found another one before the Arkansas Derby, three weeks later. Same track, same deal. Before the Kentucky Derby, the 16 four-leaf clovers fed to Pine Bluff were the result of a sweeping search conducted by Erin, Anthony's 14-year-old stepdaughter, and her eighth-grade classmates at the Pulaski Academy in Little Rock. Now Bohannan firmly believes in clover power and is attempting to grow some of the four-leaf variety at his Long Island home from seeds given to him by Erin. "Should have some by the Belmont," says Bohannan, referring to the June 6 Belmont Stakes.
As dusk fell on Pimlico, Bohannan leaned against a rail at the stakes barn and looked fondly at his Preakness winner, who was grazing hungrily, as though he were searching for lucky clovers. Then the trainer spotted the black cat lolling nearby. Bohannan laughed. "If the people in the grandstand had known that cat was rubbing up against me before the race," he said, "I think Pine Bluff would have gone from the favorite to about 8-1 real quick."
Pine Bluff (center) came from far behind to win.
Anthony and McCarron hoisted the winner's trophy as Bohannan and Isabel basked in its glow.
Coming out of the turn for home, McCarron (yellow silks) aimed Pine Bluff at the leaders.