One of the leading sophomores in the country last year over the winter and into late spring, Isabelle de Tomaso's homebred Irish War Cry gets another chance to regain that winning form as an older horse in Friday's historic $300,000 Pimlico Special at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
The 48th running of the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special for 3-year-olds and up attracted a solid field of nine – six of them graded-stakes winners – as one of seven stakes, four graded, worth $1.15 million in purses on a 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program. First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Irish War Cry has gone winless in six starts since making the Wood Memorial (G2) last April his fourth win in five starts, including a triumph in the Holy Bull (G2). He finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) as one of the leading contenders, but bounced back to be a strong second in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
A 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin, Irish War Cry raced twice this year at Gulfstream Park finishing second in the Hal's Hope (G3) and Hardacre Mile (G2) and exiting South Florida with the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance that Fair Hill, Md.-based trainer Graham Motion believes also explains his disappointing finish in last year's Fountain of Youth (G2).
“We've cut back his Lasix dosage and I think that's helped with the thumps, and I'm hoping getting out of Florida with the cooler weather – although it's going to start getting warmer here in the next few weeks – certainly in the morning the thumps have been very manageable,” Motion said. “I've been very happy with his works. I just gave him an easy half this weekend because I felt like he had three pretty good stamina works and I just wanted to freshen him up.”
Favored in each of his two starts this year, Irish War Cry raced in contention four six furlongs before fading to run last of six, beaten more than 29 lengths in the March 31 Hardacre Mile – his biggest margin of defeat. Motion is hoping Irish War Cry will continue his pattern of following up disappointing efforts with strong ones.
“It'd be hard to have a high confidence level off his last race. My feeling going into his first race this year were that he'd trained better than he did last year, and he's a very good morning horse. He's always been a good work horse,” Motion said. “That's not knocking how he was last year; to me, he's an improved horse this year and I just hope that he gets an opportunity to show that on Friday.
“I would like to have this horse have the opportunity to show everyone what a good horse he can be because he's immensely talented,” he added. “I think if we can get over these hiccups that we've had, hopefully he can do that.”
Irish War Cry drew Post 1 and will be ridden by 2017 Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz at 118 pounds.
In contrast, Stronach Stables' homebred Something Awesome, based at Laurel Park with trainer Jose Corrales, enters the Pimlico Special on a three-race win streak, all in stakes, two of them graded, to join Irish War Cry at more than $1 million in career earnings.
The 7-year-old Awesome Again gelding, a winner of five of six starts since joining Corrales' string last fall, captured the seven-furlong General George (G3) Feb. 17 and the 1 1/8-mile Harrison E. Johnson March 17 at Laurel prior to a gutsy triumph in the $1.2 million Charles Town Classic (G2) April 21, also run at nine furlongs.
“He's doing well. He came back good and the horse looks like he just likes to run. He came back and ate up everything and was ready to go the next day,” Corrales said. “We were thinking to run him in the Pimlico Special and hoped he would perform as well as he has done. He's not a horse that changes too much. You just have to do the same thing. If he can keep his fitness and the track is right for him that day, he will perform good.”
Edgar Prado, two wins away from 7,000 for his Hall of Fame career, retains the call on Something Awesome from Post 8 at 118 pounds.
Another multiple graded-stakes winner trying the Special is Radar Racing's Rated R Superstar, a gelded 5-year-old son of Grade 1-winning sprinter Kodiak Kowboy that is coming off a last-to-first two-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali (G3) April 14 at Keeneland.
Since being stretched out to begin the year, Rated R Superstar shows two wins and a second from four starts. The exception came when he ran into soft fractions and drifted out in the stretch making a belated bid to be sixth in the Feb. 19 Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
“He's really in form right now and the last race was as good as it gets out of him,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “We tinkered with him a lot. He sprinted as a 2-year-old, then he routed, then he came back to sprinting as an early 3-year-old because we thought his pedigree fit sprinting. As an older horse he's come back to routing and he just needs to stick to the route game.
“We like the distance,” he added. “He needs that distance. He's got the run figured out, he just needs extra ground and hopefully get some pace to run at.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, aboard in the Ben Ali, has the return call at 120 pounds from Post 3.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, a two-time Pimlico Special winner with Revolutionary in 2014 and Commissioner in 2015, will take two shots at this year's race with Hedge Fund and One Liner. Hedge Fund, by Pletcher's 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, is seeking his first graded-stakes win.
Disqualified to sixth after running fourth in last year's LARC Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard, Hedge Fund didn't race again until winning an entry-level allowance Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park. From there he was sent to Oaklawn Park, where he won the 1 1/16-mile Essex Stakes and wound up 10th after hopping at the start of the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14 in his most recent effort.
WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing and Head of Plains Partners' One Liner will be making just his sixth career start in the Pimlico Special. He went undefeated as a 3-year-old in 2017 including an eye-catching victory in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn but was sent to the sidelines after not training to expectations and wound up missing the rest of his sophomore year. He returned Feb. 9 to run third in a seven-furlong Gulfstream allowance before beating similar company April 21 at Keeneland.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith rides Hedge Fund, the 122-pound topweight, from Post 5 while Luis Saez takes the reins on One Liner from Post 2 at 118 pounds.
BB Horses' Afleet Willy, fourth by 1 ½ lengths to Something Awesome in the Charles Town Classic, seeks his fifth career stakes victory in the Pimlico Special. Prior to going to Charles Town, he was off the board in a tough-trip Dave's Friend Stakes and won the Native Dancer and John B. Campbell at his home track of Laurel to open his 5-year-old season.
“At Charles Town he ran big he came back so good, that's why we decided to run him right back,” Claudio Gonzalez, Maryland's leading trainer in 2017, said. “We're looking forward to it. It's the first time we've ever run in that race. He's the best horse I have right now and he's doing really good. No matter what, it's not going to be easy because it's such a big race.”
Completing the field are Discreet Lover, winner of the Excelsior (G3) April 7 at Aqueduct and sixth in Charles Town; 2017 Oklahoma Derby (G3) winner Untrapped, 12th in last year's Kentucky Derby and trained by 2008 Pimlico Special winner Steve Asmussen; and recent Parx allowance winner Papa Zulu.
The Pimlico Special was created in 1937 by Alfred Vanderbilt, the master of Sagamore Farm, as the first major stakes in the United States set up as an invitational, and was won by War Admiral. This year marks the 80thanniversary of Seabiscuit's upset of the Triple Crown winner in what was termed the “Race of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.
Revived in 1988 by the late Maryland Jockey Club president Frank De Francis, the Special's roster of winners includes Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Citation and Assault and modern-day Horses of the Year Criminal Type, Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft and Invasor.
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