Pimlico hosts Preakness Stakes on stellar Saturday card

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Ted Black

May 18th, 2018

Tomorrow afternoon all eyes in the thoroughbred racing world will focus on Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland as the historic Old Hilltop oval hosts the 143rd running of the Grade I, $1.5 million Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown for three-year-olds.

Based on his victory in the Kentucky Derby, Justify will undoubtedly be the odds-on favorite in the Preakness as the Bob Baffert trainee has won all four of his starts and now looms a budding star on the scene. A $500,000 yearling purchase, Justify has not only won all four of his starts he has also been the favorite in all of them. He debuted, somewhat belatedly, on Feb. 18 by taking a maiden special weight event and then won an allowance event at 1-20 and scored in the Santa Anita Derby.

Justify splashed home three lengths clear in the Kentucky Derby by getting the one-mile and one-quarter in a pedestrian 2:04.20 although times are somewhat meaningless on off tracks and with record rains already turning the Pimlico main track sloppy, his chances of duplicating that effort improved. In the Derby he had to battle through fast early splits of 22.3 and 45.2 and 1:11 and still kept going, so in the Preakness Stakes his speed will likely be considerably more valuable.

Those not willing to take a short price on Justify will lean toward Good Magic as their first upset option. Last year's champion two-year-old colt and hero of the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, Good Magic rebounded from a dull effort in his three-year-old debut to capture the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and then finished a decent second in the Derby. He did appear to be weakening in the final 100 yards and just outlasted the late inside bid of Audible for the place spot.

Two other horses, Bravazo and Lone Sailor, exit the Derby and will be at least 20-1 on Saturday in the Preakness. Bravazo finished sixth for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Lone Sailor was eighth and both could improve considerably in this spot. Quip was second in the Arkansas Derby behind Magnum Moon and had previously won the Tampa Bay Derby and he also has a right to figure in the exotics after bypassing the Derby. Diamond King earned a berth in the Preakness by taking the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park four weeks ago for trainer John Servis and is in peak form while getting an acid class test here.

One race earlier in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes for three-year-olds which have never won a stakes, Ax Man looms the favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, having won twice in three starts while going postward as the favorite in each of them. Pony Up is winless in four starts this year for trainer Todd Pletcher, but he has a license to score in this spot as does Title Ready, the beaten favorite in the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his most recent outing for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Then two races earlier on the card, older sprinters will be on display in the Grade III, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes. Lewisfield arrives in peak form for trainer Jeff Runco, having won both of his starts this year and five of seven overall, while Long Haul Bay won his seasonal debut at Aqueduct last month following a lengthy respite for trainer Chad Brown and the New York-bred also already owns a graded stakes tally courtesy of his victory in the Bay Shore 13 months ago. Switzerland has won his last three starts for Asmussen after finishing second twice and third three times in seven winless outings to begin his career.

Then two races earlier in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes for three-year-olds going six furlongs, Mitole arrives having won three of five starts this year for Asmussen, including a nine-length score in 1:08.41 in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park last out and looms one of the budding sprint stars his age. Curly's Rocket and Soutache both have upset chances, as does Maryland-bred Still Having Fun, who had been on the Preakness trail until delivering subpar efforts in route stakes at Laurel.

One race earlier Breeders Cup Mile hero World Approval will look to successfully defend his title in the Grade II, $200,000 Dixie Stakes on the soft Pimlico lawn. Fifth in the Grade I Kilroe Mile last out, World Approval owns 12 wins and $3 million banked from 26 lifetime tries. Several races earlier in a one-turn allowance, Happy Farm, Forge and Pop Keenan will seek success, while Autostrade and Flash Attack will be formidable in the 10:30 am opener.

One day earlier on the Friday card, Irish War Cry splashed to a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade III, $150,000 Pimlico Special in 1:56 flat for trainer Graham Motion. A horse familiar with the Triple Crown trail a year ago having finished second in the Belmont Stakes and sixth in the Derby, Irish War Cry was eventually named the Maryland-based horse of the year for 2017 by members of the Maryland Racing Media Association.

Then several races later on the Friday card, Red Ruby rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in her previous outing when she splashed home four lengths clear in the Grade II, $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for three-year-old fillies, the female sidekick to the Preakness. A sophomore daughter of two-time Breeders Cup Classic hero Tiznow, Red Ruby notched her second win in three starts this year and her third victory in five lifetime outings for trainer Kellyn Gorder.