Cool Conductor Engineers Dixie Upset

Cool Conductor finished first in an optional claiming race but was disqualified to third on Kentucky Derby (gr. I) day at Churchill Downs. But on Preakness day,he stepped up and took the $200,000 CompUSA Dixie (gr. IIT), upsetting heavily favored Artie Schiller by a nose in a thrilling stretch duel.

The race had very slow fractions and Cool Conductor, under Cornelio Velazquez, and Artie Schiller, the 3-5 favorite ridden by Edgar Prado, were locked up the entire stretch. The 11-1 shot Cool Conductor, on the outside, never would let Artie Schiller by once he wrested the lead from him. Artie Schiller bobbled twice during the stretch duel.

"The other horse tried to come back, but my horse was not going to lose today," Velasquez said. "I had a lot of horse."

Grato Recuerdo made the lead under John Velazquez, and they were walking on the front end, going a quarter in :26.33, a half-mile in :51.99, and six furlongs in 1:16.82. Artie Schiller was sitting just behind and to his outside until the far turn, when he went by and took the lead.

As they hit the furlong pole in 1:40.87, the two contenders began a stretch drive that had the crowd cheering as they hit the wire, just a nose apart. It was clear Cool Conductor had held on for the win. The final time for the nine furlongs was 1:52.79.

"No excuses. He tried very hard," Prado said of Artie Schiller. "It was a slow pace and he bobbled a few times. We got out-kicked at the finish."

A 4-year-old colt by Stravinsky, Cool Conductor was bred in Kentucky by Rio Clara Thoroughbreds, R.D. Hubbard, and Connie Sczesny. He was making just his third start of the year, having run sixth in the Makers Mark Mile (gr. IIT) before his Derby day race. In that outing, he won by 3 ¾ lengths but the stewards ruled he bumped a competitor and he was moved down to third.

Cool Conductor, out of the Baronius mare Verinha, is trained by Ralph Nicks. He is owned by David Garner.

Nicks, a former Bill Mott assistant who won his first graded stakes, said the last race was the key for Cool Conductor in spite of the disqualification.

"This race was in the eye after he won that race on Derby Day," he said, "to use this as a measuring stick and see where we were against the better horses in the country going a mile and an eighth.

"When you can run with Artie Schiller and Better Talk Now, you have no reason to be ducking and diving so much. When there was such a short field I was hoping there would be a couple of faster horses in there with him because he's a little rank sometimes. Cornelio did a fabulous job with him and maybe the horse is starting to mature a little mentally and be more professional in his races."

The bay won last fall's Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT), his only previous stakes win, and now boasts a record of 4-1-5 in 16 starts with earnings of $467,546. The victory was his first in three starts this year.

The winner paid $24, $5.40, and $2.40 while heavily favored Artie Schiller returned $2.60 and $2.10. Good Reward, ridden by Jerry Bailey, was 2 1/4 lengths back, paying $2.20 to show.

Better Talk Now, the 5-2 second choice, never challenged while lacking racing room on the final turn for Ramon Dominguez, finishing 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Pacesetter Grato Recuerdo faded to last.

(Chart, Equibase)