Two Legs Up After his improbable victory in the Preakness, only the Belmont Stakes stands between Real Quiet and the first triple crown in two decades

May 24, 1998

Mike Pegram could hardly fathom what he was seeing. It was 20
minutes to post time for the Preakness Stakes, and Pegram, owner
of the Kentucky Derby winner, Real Quiet, was standing about 10
feet from where the colt was walking in circles in the saddling
area on the Pimlico turf course, his bright bay coat gleaming in
the late-afternoon light. Pegram glanced at the tote board on
the infield behind him and saw the odds flashing. They showed
Victory Gallop as the 9-5 favorite and Cape Town as the second
choice, at 5-2.

"I can't believe my horse is the third choice, at 3-1!" Pegram
said. "And that's after I emptied my pockets [betting] on him. I
bet so much that I probably dropped his odds at least a point. I
love it."

In the end no one loved last Saturday's Preakness more than this
husky good old boy from Indiana who made millions in the
fast-food business in Washington State. At 5:31 p.m., as Real
Quiet charged to a stunning 2 1/4-length victory, Pegram found
himself in possession not just of a fistful of winning tickets
but also of a colt so dominant at Pimlico, so much the best of
any 3-year-old in the land, that he instantly became the
favorite to win the June 6 Belmont Stakes and become the 12th
Triple Crown winner in racing history and the first in 20 years,
after Affirmed in 1978.

By the time the gates popped open, the public had made Real
Quiet the second choice, at 5-2, but he ran like a horse who was
2-5. The colt turned in a magnificent performance, overcoming a
seemingly disastrous trip in which he lost at least five lengths
racing wide around both turns but still had enough left to kick
into another gear for the final rush to the wire.

For Bob Baffert, it was deja vu all over again as he became the
first trainer to win the Derby and the Preakness in consecutive
years. He won them last year with Silver Charm, only to finish
second in the Belmont. But it was Real Quiet who had the
horsemen reaching for superlatives. "Awesome," said Patrick
Byrne, trainer of fifth-place finisher Black Cash. "Better than
his Derby victory." At the stakes barn, near a fence on which
the names of all Triple Crown winners are painted on strips of
wood, Tom Amoss, the conditioner of fourth-place finisher Hot
Wells, said of Real Quiet, "They'll soon be painting his name
here on a Triple Crown plaque."

Nothing would have seemed more improbable nine months ago. After
Baffert purchased Real Quiet at a yearling sale in September
1996, he told his old friend Pegram that he had just bought him
a nice colt at a fire-sale price: $17,000. "What's he got,
cancer?" Pegram asked. No, but he did have a mild case of the
slows. Last August, after the colt was beaten in his first three
starts, at Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park, Baffert banished
him briefly to a now-defunct little gulag in New Mexico called
The Downs at Santa Fe--and he couldn't even win there. Twice he
finished third. "In New Mexico today," Baffert said after the
Preakness, "there are a lot of trainers saying, 'Bring him here;
we'll kick your ass!'"

The colt did not get his first victory until his seventh start,
last Oct. 18 at Santa Anita, where he won a maiden race by
three. Suddenly he had found his racing shoes. He joined
Baffert's first string of 2-year-olds when he won the Hollywood
Futurity on Dec. 14. "He just got better and better all winter,"
Baffert said. When Real Quiet finished a fast-closing second to
his more highly regarded stablemate, Indian Charlie, in the
April 4 Santa Anita Derby--on a track over which no other horse
closed ground--he earned his way to Churchill Downs and,
ultimately, a place in racing lore when he held off Victory
Gallop's late charge to win the roses.

America had a genuine blue-collar horse: a cool, unflappable
dude with a long, rhythmic stride, a stirring gust of speed and
an appetite for work and racing that suggested a throwback to
the days when thoroughbreds were a hearty breed that flourished
under pressure. Before the Derby, two major contenders--Event of
the Year and Lil's Lad--were lost to injuries, and on the way to
Pimlico three more went out: Halory Hunter (fourth in the
Derby), Indian Charlie and Coronado's Quest. But Real Quiet
blossomed after his Derby score and worked like the wind off
Chesapeake Bay. "It's amazing, but this horse is just peaking
right now," Baffert said four days before the Preakness. "He's
doing better than he was before the Derby. But he's got to get
the trip and he's got to get lucky."

He got neither. Real Quiet drew the difficult outside post,
number 11, and what Baffert feared most was that he would be
parked too wide on the first turn. Sure enough, Real Quiet was
four wide as the horses charged into the first bend, in eighth
place, nearly six lengths behind the leader. "I was
dumbfounded," says jockey Kent Desormeaux, "in awe that the
horses were so far in front of me."

Victory Gallop, with Gary Stevens on him, was inside Real Quiet
and keeping him out as they swept into the backstretch.
Desormeaux felt his horse begin to reach out, picking up speed
and moving past Stevens. "I yanked the bit back in his mouth,"
Desormeaux said later, "and told him, 'No, buddy! Not yet.'"
They were five wide going down the backside, nine lengths off
the lead, when Desormeaux saw Victory Gallop pass him on the
left: "I said, 'There's the horse to beat, Real Quiet, and it's
time to go.'"

He nudged his colt forward, and they joined a cavalry charge
into the far turn, the leaders bunching for the run around the
last bend. Now six horses wide, Desormeaux and his mount were
taking the worst of it. Real Quiet appeared to have no chance.
"I was hung out to dry," Desormeaux says.

Midway through the turn, with three eighths of a mile to go,
Desormeaux asked his bay for speed. It was as though he'd hit a
switch; the colt made a move that was electric, as swift as it
was irresistible, and at once he had Gallop by the throat and
was lunging past him to take the lead. Desormeaux whipped the
colt lefthanded. Stevens had Gallop in a drive.

With 250 yards to run, Gallop began to give way, and by the
eighth pole Real Quiet, with a half-length lead, had him
whipped. Real Quiet pulled away in the final 200 yards to win in
a flourish, in 1:54 3/5, just 1 1/5 seconds off the stakes
record. "He was tons the best," said America's latest hall of
fame trainer, Bill Mott. "That wide move on the last turn was
unbelievable."

It was 92[degrees] at Pimlico on Saturday, and in that
debilitating heat, Real Quiet had run through his bridle, and he
was as wet as he was weary when Desormeaux dismounted. Baffert
has three weeks to get him ready for the biggest and potentially
richest event of all. If Real Quiet wins the Triple Crown, Visa
will pay a $5 million bonus. "My job is to get that battery
charged again," Baffert said. "I will not let you down. We will
win the Triple Crown."

Desormeaux was sitting on that fence with the painted plaques
and saying that more than money was at stake. "We've got the
Derby and Preakness out of the way," he said. "Now we're messing
with history." In this oldest of traditional American sports,
that Crown remains the only monument to greatness worth messing
with.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES SILENT BUT DEADLY After catching Victory Gallop (center) on the final turn, Real Quiet took command as he drove to the wire. [Horses Victory Gallop and Real Quiet in race]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)