Once Too Hot to Handle, Tabasco Cat Delivers Sauce

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The horse that almost killed his son in December lifted trainer Wayne Lukas from his lowest on-track moment to his highest Saturday.

Tabasco Cat, who kicked like a bronco when Lukas tried to saddle him, saved his biggest kick for the stretch run of the 119th Preakness Stakes, defeating Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin in the final eighth of a mile for a 3/4-length victory before a Pimlico Race Course crowd of 86,343.

Jeff Lukas, the trainer's 36-year-old son and chief assistant, was run over by Tabasco Cat outside his father's barn last year and suffered a severe head injury. And Wayne Lukas' Preakness horse last year, Union City, broke down during the race and had to be destroyed, resulting in severe criticism that Lukas said Saturday "could have been detrimental to my career."

The Lukases never have penalized the high-strung Tabasco Cat for that day he ran away. "We never hung any yolk around his neck," Wayne Lukas said after his third Preakness victory.

"He's a good-feeling horse, but he's not mean. When he runs, he likes to play to the crowd, but he's not nervous and never been (sweaty). Jeff's going to join me on a part-time basis soon, and he'll be around more later in the year. He never really got to know this horse. He was just getting to know him when he was injured."

After speaking to his son twice about race strategy earlier in the day, Lukas attempted to call him after the Preakness. But Jeff, his wife, Linda, and their two young children had gone to a carnival after watching the race on television.

Reached Saturday night, Linda Lukas said: "Jeff was real excited when the horse reached the wire. He jumped up and hugged everybody and high-fived us. He was very happy for his dad and the owners. We've rented a house for the Del Mar meet (that starts in late July), so he's almost ready to get back to work."

Jockey Pat Day rode his third Preakness winner from the No. 1 post position, passing Go For Gin from the outside in the stretch.

"We had a picture-perfect trip," he said. "I had Go For Gin right where I wanted him when I turned for home. I had gotten there easily and had not asked my horse for any run at all. I felt like I had him any time I wanted."

Tabasco Cat's victory means that the Triple Crown series will have to wait another year before a 3-year-old has a chance to sweep the races. Affirmed, in 1978, was the last Triple Crown winner.

Go For Gin, helped by a sloppy track, beat sixth-place Tabasco Cat by nine lengths in the roughly run Derby. …