BALTIMORE — A 30-1 long shot in the morning line, Tale of Verve got virtually no love from the media or bettors leading up to the Preakness.
On Saturday, the bay colt proved to be better than every horse except the incomparable American Pharoah.
Stuck in eighth place at the half-pole, Tale of Verve rallied to finish second ahead of Divining Rod.
"What a horse," trainer Dallas Stewart said. "I think this validated what he is. He's an improving horse."
Stewart felt so good about it, he actually seemed eager to take on American Pharoah again in three weeks.
"Congratulations to the winner," he said. "We will see him at the Belmont."
Tale of Verve had only one win in seven career races, but there's certainly no embarrassment in finishing second in the Preakness.
"I had a perfect trip," jockey Joel Rosario said. "The farther we went, he kept picking it up."
Firing Line was supposed to give American Pharoah a run to the finish, but a poor start ended the colt's string of finishing first or second in every race.
The horse never got within shouting distance of the leaders and came in seventh in the field of eight.
"His second jump out, he stumbled badly," trainer Simon Callaghan said. "That took his momentum and then he never really got hold of the track. Nothing went right, with the rain coming."
Callaghan couldn't hide his disappointment, and neither could jockey Gary Stevens.
"We stumbled out of the gate, and that was our race today," Stevens said.
Callaghan was uncertain if he would enter Firing Line in the Belmont.
A record crowd of 131, 680 showed up on a day that began under a blue sky and ended with a torrent of rain.
The handle was $85.161 million, an increase of nearly $2 million from one year earlier, and there were no reported incidents in a city that has been overrun a few weeks earlier by rioting and looting.
"What a day for Baltimore," American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert said. "They really needed this after all they've been through. I'm really happy for them. I love coming here."
LUKAS HANGING AROUND
D. Wayne Lukas long ago reached the age where it's acceptable to sleep in, play a round of golf on a weekday afternoon or take a cruise to the Caribbean.
None of these activities appeal to the Hall of Fame trainer.
Lukas was sitting at the Pimlico Stakes Barn on Saturday morning, wearing his trademark boots and 10-gallon hat around nine hours before he was slated to saddle Mr. Z for the Preakness.
Lukas, 79, has absolutely no thought of riding into retirement.
"Not even remotely," he said. "This is my sanctuary. This is my life. There's no reason for me not to do this.
"What the (heck) am I going to do? I'm terrible at golf. I'm not wired to sit around. My wife said, 'Well, maybe we should take a trip.' I said, 'Turn on the Discovery Channel.' It isn't in my makeup."
Mr. Z had a pretty good trip himself, running second for much of the race before fading to fifth.
INFIELD FRIENDLY: The Pimlico infield was all about drinking beer, listening to live music, flirting and making bets.
The rioting and looting that occurred in Baltimore weeks earlier apparently did not play into any of this.
"I was concerned, but not overly concerned," said John Cacciutti, 23, who came down from Philadelphia. "I was coming down either way."
Cacciutti paid $80 in advance for a ticket and unlimited refills on his beer mug. It was his first Preakness.
Joe Kimsal, 47, was pleasantly surprised at the environment in the city.
"I was downtown last night, and everyone was getting along," he said. "It was if nothing happened."
Kimsal, who also came down from Pennsylvania, bought his ticket in advance, but never considered staying home.
"When that stuff was going down I was a little worried," he acknowledged, "but we were coming down even if we had to put helmets on."
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