Stanford the one to beat in Pimlico Special if he runs

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 16th, 2016

Stanford, wire-to-wire winner of last month's Charles Town Classic (G2), is an early favorite to make it two in a row in Friday's $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3), but as of Monday afternoon trainer Todd Pletcher wasn't firmly committed to running the four-year-old Malibu Moon colt in the 1 3/16-mile handicap on the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) undercard.

"Since it was a five-day entry we felt like we were best suited to enter because the horse is doing very well, buying time to make that decision," Pletcher said. "One of the things we consider is that he's run well back in three weeks before. He was second to Materiality [last year] in the Islamorada and ran very well back in the Louisiana Derby (G2) three weeks later. That's one of the discussions we'll have this week."

Should Stanford be given the green light, he will have a rematch with Charles Town Classic runner-up Page McKenney. The Classic was the regional fan favorite's first loss after scoring four consecutive stakes wins, including the seven-furlong General George (G3) at Laurel in February. Page McKenney finished second in the 2015 Special to Commissioner, who was trained by Pletcher.

Noble Bird is back two weeks after finishing last as the favorite in the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs. Last year's Stephen Foster H. (G1) hero has finished up the track in three of his past four starts.

"He's a very, very talented horse, but he's a hard horse to train and he's really hard on himself," said Norman Casse, son and assistant to trainer Mark Casse. "When he broke bad the other day in the Alysheba, every chance that he had of winning or running well in that race got thrown out the window. He's too difficult to ride and when he breaks bad like that it's pretty much game over.

"We don't think he even ran any in that race. (Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) pretty much wrapped him up around the turn and we felt he's still sitting on another big race so it makes sense to send him there. He's a horse that I think we're done trying to rate him. Maybe with the little bit longer distance he'll get the lead a little easier and they'll leave him alone up front. That's exactly what he wants. The circumstances may set up perfect for him."

Also among the eight entered is Argentinean import Idolo Porteno, who captured his native country's most important race, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1), in 2014. In two U.S. appearances, he's finished third in the Razorback H. (G3) and last of eight in the Elkhorn (G2) on turf.

Here's a brief look at other stakes on Friday's card at Pimlico:

$150,000 Allaire duPont Distaff (G3): Won last year by eventual Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) heroine Stopchargingmaria, this competitive renewal features graded stakes performers Theogony, Engaginglee, Mei Ling, Ahh Chocolate, Savings Account, America, Joint Return, Super Majesty, and Tiger Ride.

$150,000 Miss Preakness (G3): There's a plethora of speed in this six-furlong dash for three-year-old fillies as stakes winners Moment Is Right, R Girls a Charmer, Lost Raven, and She's All Ready are likely to show early foot, along with recent allowance winner Quick Release. Dual Grade 3-placed Banree might be a potential beneficiary.

$100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint: The venerable 10-year-old Ben's Cat, trained by Hall of Famer King Leatherbury, seeks his fourth consecutive win, and fifth overall, in this five-furlong heat. Coming off a season-opening allowance win at Laurel, he hopes to catch Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) winner Rocket Heat and reigning Laurel Dash hero Spring to the Sky.

$100,000 Skipat: Fantastic Style, a dual graded stakes winner in California for Bob Baffert, figures to be an overwhelming favorite to dispense with eight rivals in this six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares.

$100,000 Hilltop: Among the likely choices in this full field of three-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the turf are Grade/Group 3-placed Spinamiss, Family Meeting, Gone Away, and Miss Katie Mae, as well as Channel Regatta, Princess Princess, and Wessex.