In one of the closest and most thrilling finishes in Triple Crown history, Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence outfought, outgamed and finally outnosed arch-rival Easy Goer Saturday to win a stretch-longwhipping and slashing battle Saturday in the 114th running of the Preakness.
The duel, the third-fastest of 114 Preaknesses, wore out the lungs of a record crowd of 90,145 as the pair of 3-year-old colts hooked up at the top of the stretch and ran eyeball-to-eyeball for the final 3/1 6-mile of the 1 3/1 6-mile classic.
By time they passed the wire in the closest Preakness finish in 27 years, Sunday Silence -- the second choice in the wagering for the second straight time -- had reaffirmed his dominance over again-favored Easy Goer, whom he beat by 2 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
"One more to go!" shouted Sunday Silence trainer Charlie Whittingham right after jockey Pat Valenzuela raised his whip in triumph and just before a photo finish and a pair of jockey objections delayed the posting of the "official" sign for about seven minutes.
It was Whittingham, the 76-year-old Hall of Famer, who confidently predicted a Triple Crown sweep for Sunday Silence after his Kentucky victory over a muddy track that Easy Goer had trouble handling.
But this day, on a track that was dry and fast, there were no excuses for Easy Goer as Sunday Silence proved what Whittingham and Valenzuela had said all along.
"I think that Easy Goer is overrated," Valenzuela said. "I think we have the better horse."
Both camps said they plan to move on to New York City's Belmont Park for the June 10 Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. There Sunday Silence has a chance to win the first Triple Crown in 11 years -- and a $5 million bonus.
"It was a real good horse race and maybe we could turn the tables next time," said Pat Day, Easy Goer's jockey.
The last time two Triple Crown contenders finished nearly so close was in the 1978 Belmont, when Affirmed won by a head over Alydar, Easy Goer's sire, after a similar lengthy battle. That was the third 1-2 finish between those classic rivals, the only pair, so far, ever to run 1-2 in all three contests.
The last time the Preakness was decided by a nose was in 1962, when Greek Money edged Ridan. The Derby last came down to noses in 1959, when Tomy Lee beat Sword Dancer. The Belmont of 1962 finished with Jaipur a nose ahead of Admiral's Voyage.
Sunday Silence, sent off at odds of slightly over 2-1 after spending the previous week recovering from a minor hoof bruise, paid $6.20, $3 and $3.20. Easy Goer, the 3-5 favorite, returned $2.40 and $2.40. Rock Point, a 22-1 shot, finished 5 lengths farther back and paid $3.60 to show. The exacta paid $10.40 and the trifecta returned $44 for a $2 wager.
Bringing up the rear were Dansil, Hawkster, Houston, Pulverizing and Northern Wolf. Awe Inspiring, who was scheduled to run only if it rained, was scratched early in the morning.
The final time of 1:53 4/5 was two-fifths of a second slower than Tank's Prospect's Preakness record in 1985 and a tick off Gate Dancer's 1984 performance. It was three-fifths seconds slower than the track record set by 4-year-old Blushing John a week earlier in the Pimlico Special.
The race got off to a fast start as speedsters Pulverizing and Northern Wolf jumped quickly out of the gate. Northern Wolf, ridden by Jo Jo Ladner, maintained command into the first turn, but yielded to Houston (Angel Cordero Jr.) as they straightened up the backstretch.
Houston, who also led the early stages of the Derby, opened up about 2 lengths, followed by Northern Wolf, Sunday Silence, Pulverizing and Easy Goer, who was about 5 lengths back after a half-mile in 46 2/5 seconds.
Day urged Easy Goer into a forward thrust as they neared the final turn. Day's big chestnut blew by on the outside of Sunday Silence on his way to collaring Houston, who was tiring on the front end.
After Easy Goer passed Sunday Silence, the favorite swerved slightly to the inside, causing Valenzuela to steady Sunday Silence momentarily before swinging to the outside and giving chase.
"He kind of pushed me over to Houston's heels," Valenzuela said. "But I had plenty of horse and just kind of waited."
Sunday Silence rolled up on Easy Goer's outside as they turned for home and the war began. Valenzuela, wearing gray and yellow silks, whipped his black colt, wearing No. 8, three times left-handed and then switched the stick to the right hand. Day, in black and red and up tight against the rail, stung Easy Goer, No. 2, repeatedly with the left hand as the battling pair matched stride for stride and whip for whip, pulling away from the others.
With about 200 yards to go, Easy Goer got his white-starred head in front, but Sunday Silence, whose head has a knife-like white blaze, dug in and fought back to take the lead for good.
Valenzuela eventually tucked the whip away and hand-pumped Sunday Silence for the final five strides.
"I thought I had him put away, but it was a hell of a race to the wire. He had me by a neck, but we came back," Valenzuela said.
After the finish, Day claimed Sunday Silence had interfered with Easy Goer in the stretch and Larry Snyder, on Dansil, claimed the same against Chris Antley on Rock Point.
But neither foul claim was allowed by the stewards. Chief steward Clinton P. Pitts Jr. said Day and Valenzuela "rode each other close but it was just good, clean riding."
Sunday Silence becomes the 23rd horse since 1919 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Eleven of them -- Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978) -- have gone on to win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.
The winner's share of $438,490 (it was the richest Preakness ever) boosts Sunday Silence's bankroll to $1,418,790. He has won six of eight races and finished second twice, by a neck and a head.
Sunday Silence -- owned by Whittingham, Dr. Ernest Gaillard, and Arthur B. Hancock -- won $574,200 in the Derby. If he wins the Belmont, he will get another $3,987,310 and become the first winner of the $5 million (total prize money) bonus sponsored by Chrysler Corp.
If he does not win the Belmont, an extra $1 million bonus will go to the horse showing the best total performances, based on a 5-3-1 point system, in all three races. If the series ends in a tie, a possibility if Easy Goer (now with six points) wins the Belmont and Sunday Silence (with 10) finishes third, they would each get $500,000.
The race also marked the first Preakness victory for Whittingham and Valenzuela. The rider's uncle, Milo Valenzuela, won the Preakness twice, on Tim Tam (1958) and Forward Pass (1968).
Meanwhile, Easy Goer became the third straight in a trio -- after Linkage (1-2 in 1982) and Swale (4-5 in 1984) -- of losing odds-on Preakness favorites. He also joins a long list of Kentucky Derby runners-up who failed in a Preakness rematch against the Derby winner, the most recent being Forty Niner (1988), Bet Twice (1987) and Desert Wine (1983).
Easy Goer also became just the second horse in modern history to lose as the odds-on favorite in both the Derby and the Preakness. The same fate befell Honest Pleasure, who finished second in the 1976 Derby at 2-5 and fifth in the Preakness at 9-10.