PREAKNESS MEMORIES: TANK’S PROSPECT, JUST IN TIME
On May 2, 1982 a bay colt by Mr. Prospector slipped into the world. It was a strapping colt who commanded the lofty price of $625,000 at the July Keeneland Select Yearling Sale. The ticket was signed by D. Wayne Lukas for owner Eugene Klein, who gave him the name Tank’s Prospect in honor of Paul “Tank” Younger, a former fullback of the San Diego Chargers. The colt would go on to make his namesake proud, as he was destined to etch his name into Preakness history.
Tank’s Prospect kicked off his racing career at the age of two, debuting at Hollywood Park for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The colt finished fifth in his first attempt against competition but showed improvement in his second start, posting a solid runner up effort in a maiden special weight.
Tank’s Prospect made it to the winner’s circle in his third attempt. He would make nine of his next 11 starts in Grade 1 company.
The colt competed in the Young American Stakes (G1), the Champagne Stakes (G1), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and the Hollywood Futurity (G1), hitting the board in all four attempts to close out his juvenile season.
Dropped into slightly easier company to kick off his sophomore campaign, Tank’s Prospect swept to victory in an allowance race at Santa Anita Park and went on to take down his rivals in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows less than a month later.
However, the colt’s momentum was cut short when a troubled run in the Santa Anita Derby left him back in ninth place. That turned out to be the result of an entrapped epiglottis that left him struggling for breath; one brief procedure later, he was back in business.
And two weeks later, he bounced back to win the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in a time of 1:48 2/5 for nine furlongs, then the second-fastest Arkansas Derby of all time. With that, it was on to Kentucky for Tank’s Prospect. The legendary “Run for the Roses” awaited. But when the first Saturday in May came around, it simply was not meant to be.
Tank’s Prospect struggled in the crowded field of the Kentucky Derby. The roses went to runaway winner Spend a Buck, while Tank’s Prospect could only manage a seventh-place finish. Knowing that his horse was better than his efforts showed, Lukas regrouped and made the decision to send Tank’s Prospect to the Preakness Stakes two weeks later for another shot.
Triple Crown dreams were dashed before the Preakness Stakes were even run in 1985. Spend a Buck’s owner, Dennis Diaz, made the shocking decision to skip both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and instead run his horse in the Jersey Derby, where a bonus of $2.6 million awaited the colt, should he win. Spend a Buck did capture the prize, and as a result of his owner’s decision, the Triple Crown had to go on without him.
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Despite losing the main attraction of the race, a crowd of 81,235 flocked to Pimlico Racecourse to witness that middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Even without Spend a Buck the show had to go on, and when the gates burst open in the 110th Preakness Stakes, racing fans were not left disappointed.
The fleet-footed Eternal Prince wasted no time and gunned it to the front when the starting gates opened in the Preakness Stakes. While Eternal Prince was charging clear, Tank’s Prospect was off to a less auspicious start. He brushed with the King Leatherbury-trained I Am the Game leaving the starting gate. The contact caused Tank’s Prospect’s rider, Pat Day, to lose his left iron briefly. It took Day several jumps to regain his irons, but the rider made it work. Day and his steed were back in the game – but also in eighth place and with a lot of work to do.
“That might have cost me a little as far as position goes,” Day said. “The horse didn’t start off galloping the way I wanted him to.”
Weaving his way into position, Tank’s Prospect tucked himself on the rail, saving ground behind the front runners as the stampede unfolded. Eternal Prince led the fray through swift fractions, blazing through the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 2/5. As the pace setter neared the final bend, even money favorite Chief’s Crown, who had finished a respectable third in the Kentucky Derby, was steadily making his way to the front.
It didn’t take long for Chief’s Crown to draw on even terms with Eternal Prince, and the pair stormed into the stretch in heated battle. Chief’s Crown shot forward to take command and for a moment, looked to be home free. But then came Tank’s Prospect, who was poised to have a say in the finish.
Leaving the furlong grounds, Day tipped Tank’s Prospect outside and unleashed his late run. In the final strides of the race Tank’s Prospect caught Chief’s Crown. With a determined thrust, Tank’s Prospect surged in front late to win by a head.
When Tank’s Prospect and his pilot, Pat Day, dashed over the finish line in the Preakness Stakes, history was made. Their final time of 1:53 2/5 for the 1 3/16-mile challenge was a fifth of a second faster than Gate Dancer’s official track record that was set the year before, and was at the time the fastest Preakness of them all.
In fact, no runner would eclipse that time until, in 2012, the Maryland Racing Commission ruled that Secretariat’s official time was incorrect and that he had, in fact, completed the course in 1:53 flat.
Tank’s Prospect, who was the third choice in the wagering, returned $11.40 to those who supported him with a $2 win bet.
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Tank’s Prospect made his next appearance three weeks later in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. There were high hopes surrounding the Preakness winner in the final leg of the Triple Crown, but when the bay colt swung into the stretch of the spacious Belmont oval, all hopes were dashed. Tank’s Prospect broke down in the stretch, failing to finish the race. The colt had pulled a suspensory ligament in his right front leg, which led him to an early retirement from the races.
“We’re lucky he’s alive,” Klein said of his horse’s injury after the Belmont Stakes. “It’s jolting. He had a chance to be a champion. But that’s the breaks, I guess. You have to take the bitter with the better.”
Tank’s Prospect’s career ended with five trips to the winner’s circle from fourteen starts. During his time on the track, the colt banked earnings of $1,355,645. Tank’s Prospect went on to stud duty where he had moderate success. He stood as a stallion until March 2, 1995, when he passed away from a ruptured arterial blood vessel at Venture Farms in Aubrey, Texas.
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