Preakness weekend will treat bettors to an early start of the graded stakes action, with the Grade 3 Pimlico Special getting the ball rolling on Friday afternoon.
Though the scratches of both Stanford, to be pointed to the Met Mile instead, and Page McKenney, with a tendon injury, leave the race a bit shorter than the contest it was promoted to be, there are still a couple of contenders who may jump up and surprise us. Noble Bird will inherit the heavy favoritism, but Idolo Porteno may well prove a challenger late. The latter is a dual Group 1 winner in his native Argentina, and may have found a group here with which he can be competitive. Golden Glint also merits a bit of a look.
Next up is the listed Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico, featuring the noble Ben's Cat in his 10-year-old season. A longshot that merits some interest is Liam Benson's Expected Ruler; the 21-year-old trainer teams up with the same connections that saw the colt win a tough allowance race at Keeneland despite heavy traffic last out, and he believes he may have finally figured out how to train the opinionated son of Leroidesanimaux.
The Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff is a tough handicapping race, with Mei Ling listed as the morning-line favorite. The inside horses, Theogony and Engaginglee, both get some serious class relief could well prove tough here. Ahh Chocolate was disappointing last out, but should move forward in her third start of the year. Savings Account arrives after a bit of a freshening, and was dangerous over a muddy surface at Fair Grounds last out.
Friday's feature, the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, will see the Oaks runner-up Land Over Sea re-matched against fourth-place finisher Go Maggie Go. Dothraki Queen, making her second start off a layoff, could prove tough if she returns to last year's form that saw her finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The field also features five additional graded stakes-placed sophomore fillies.
The action concludes Friday with the Grade 3 Miss Preakness Stakes, a sprint for the sophomore fillies. Stakes-winner R Girls A Charmer faces off against the graded stakes-placed Banree, as well as a full 10-horse field.
Saturday starts early at Pimlico, with the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes the first graded action on the card. Salutos Amigos has earned the mark of heavy favoritism here, listed at even money on the morning line. Challengers include Gr. 3 winner Cinco Charlie, as well as the graded stakes-placed Always Sunshine in a seven-horse field.
The action switches to Churchill Downs for the Gr. 3 Louisville Handicap, featuring Dynamic Sky and Roman Approval. An interesting price play may be Tim Glyshaw's Bullards Alley, still searching for his first graded stakes victory. The colt has shown a taste for the Churchill turf, and will run all day, so the 1 1/2 mile distance shouldn't be an issue.
Back to Pimlico, the listed Very One features the star turf sprint mare Lady Shipman, lining up against 11 other fillies and mares for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. She's been in good form of late, and should dominate the field. Pimlico's Gr. 3 Gallorette is headlined by Graham Motion's Tiger Ride, a filly who captured her first graded event at Keeneland last fall. The well-matched field also includes graded winner Mizz Money and listed winner Jodesanimaux. Staying in Maryland, the Grade 2 Dixie showcases the return to the races of Gr. 1 winner Ring Weekend. He faces a tough bunch, including Grand Arch, returning from a third in the Breeders' Cup Mile, as well as Force the Pass and Take the Stand.
Skipping over to Arlington Park, the Gr. 3 Hanshin Cup is up next, led by Mike Tomlinson's Midnight Cello. Recount is the second-choice, though he hasn't won a race since November, despite seven starts. Blarp is the interesting entry, as he showed a lot of talent early in the year, the faded a bit, and recently ran a sneaky-good third in an allowance at Keeneland.
The weekend's highlight is the Gr. 1 Preakness Stakes, where Nyquist will attempt to earn the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Ten line up to face him, including Derby runner-up Exaggerator and Derby ninth-place finisher Lani. Drawing a lot of attention is Todd Pletcher's Stradivari, a very impressive allowance victor last out at Keeneland, stepping into graded company for the first time. Also figuring to get a bit of interest at the window is Collected, who won the Lexington at Keeneland with ease and has three stakes victories, two graded, to his credit.
Closing out Saturday's action are the Gr. 2 Kona Gold at Santa Anita and the Gr. 3 Vagrancy at Belmont Park. The Kona Gold highlights West-Coast sprinters Coastline, Wild Dude, Subtle Indian and San Onofre, while the Vagrancy is for fillies and mares over a sprint distance, with Paulassilverlining the heavy favorite.
On Sunday, Santa Anita hosts the Gr. 3 Californian, an exciting race featuring classic-types Hard Aces and Point Piper. Follow Me Crev is another interesting player in the mix of the seven-horse field, as he enters with four back-to-back victories.
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