Grade 1 winners Force the Pass and Grand Arch head a solid field of older turf horses running in the $250,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (G2) on the Preakness undercard Saturday.
The 115th running of the mile-and-a-sixteenth race drew 13 horses, 10 of them graded stakes winners.
Force the Pass won the Belmont Derby (G1) at a mile and a quarter and the Penn Mile (G3) last year. A 4-year-old Speightstown colt trained by Alan Goldberg, Force the Pass has won four of nine career starts and never finished out of the money.
In his first start since September, Force the Pass had a useful prep. He finished third, a half-length behind winner Reporting Star, in the Appleton (G3) on April 2 at Gulfstream Park. Runner-up Divisidero, who finished a head in front of Force the Pass, went on to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day.
Goldberg said he had been planning to run Force the Pass in the Fort Marcy (G3) on May 7 at Belmont Park before opting for the Dixie.
“It looked like the weather was kind of crappy up there, and the turf was going to be soft, so we decided to skip it,” he said. “We decided to run down here. He's doing very well.”
Grand Arch, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Brian Lynch, will be racing for the first time since finishing third, 3 ¾ lengths behind winner Tepin, in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). Tepin was later voted the Eclipse Award as champion turf female.
“He's a horse, if you look back over his form, some of his best races have been when he's fresh,” Lynch said. “Hopefully, it's a comeback race and it'll kick off a good campaign ahead of him this year.”
Last year, Grand Arch had his most productive season, winning three of six starts, including the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and the Fourstardave (G2). He hasn't run in a mile-and-a-sixteenth race since 2014 and hasn't won a stakes race at the distance, but Lynch isn't concerned.
“I think at this stage of his career, he can handle a mile and a sixteenth,” Lynch said. “I don't think that's going to be a big issue.”
The field has another Grade 1 winner, Ring Weekend, who will be making his first start since winning the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) in March 2015. The gelding, trained by Graham Motion, won four graded races in 2014.
The other graded winners are Take the Stand and Long On Value, both trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott; Takeover Target, trained by Chad Brown; El Kabeir, trained by John Terranova; Golden Sabre, trained by Motion; and Za Approval and Conquest Typhoon, both trained by Mark Casse.
Take the Stand set a Fair Grounds course record for about a mile and an eighth – 1:47.80 – in winning the Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap (G2). He led all the way in that race.
Long On Value won the Twilight Derby (G2) in 2014 and the Canadian Turf Stakes (G3) in 2015. He has raced twice this year, finishing second in the Canadian Turf and fifth in the Appleton.
Za Approval, who will be making his 2016 debut, was competitive in graded company as a 7-year-old last year. His most productive season was 2013, when he won three Grade 3 races and placed in three Grade 1 races, including the Breeders' Cup Mile and Woodbine Mile, both won by Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
Conquest Typhoon, a two-time graded winner, finished fifth in the Maker's 46 Mile (G1) in his only stakes start this year.
The other three horses – Cage Fighter, trained by James 'Chuck' Lawrence II; Prince Gagarin, trained by Michael Matz; and Captain Dixie, trained by Jamie Ness – are graded placed.
Cage Fighter was second in the Dixie last year. Prince Gagarin, who was Group 3-placed in Ireland last year, will be making his second U.S. start and is coming off a sharp allowance win at Keeneland.
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