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As clock ticks to the Preakness, Grade I Man o' War tops weekend U.S. racing

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Improbable continues to train for the Preakness Stakes on May 18 in Baltimore. File Photo by John Sommers II/UPI
Improbable continues to train for the Preakness Stakes on May 18 in Baltimore. File Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

May 10 (UPI) -- It's a bit of an easy weekend for the Preakness Stakes hopefuls as the racing world recovers from the messy first leg of the Triple Crown and looks forward one more week to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore.

But there's plenty of top-shelf racing around the country while the clock ticks down to the Preakness. Topping that list is the Grade I Man o' War on the Belmont Park turf, featuring two Irish raiders.

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But on the Triple Crown front:

Easy work was the main agenda for most of those lining up for the Preakness, both refugees from the Kentucky Derby and the "new shooters" who skipped that race.

Improbable, the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby and probable favorite for next Saturday's Preakness Stakes, took it easy Thursday morning at Churchill Downs in his first exercise since the Run for the Roses.

The City Zip colt went to the track shortly after dawn and jogged once around, said Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert. "Bob said to just jog him today," Barnes said. "I am very happy with him. He was feeling good, bucking and playing. It was difficult to keep his feet on the ground."

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Mike Smith, who rode Justify for Baffert during last year's Triple Crown sweep, is set to hop aboard Improbable, who finished fifth in the Derby and was placed fourth.

Elliott Walden, president and CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm, noted Baffert had three horses in the Derby, "so he's not choosing to run all three back. He's choosing Improbable because he thinks he's the one that came out of the race the best. And so, that does give you confidence."

Five other horses stabled at Churchill Downs but headed for Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness also visited the track Thursday morning.

War of Will, the primary victim of the interference that cost Maximum Security the Derby win, jogged two miles. Bodexpress, another victim of that misadventure, galloped 1 3/4 miles. Preakness "new shooters" Signalman and Owendale each galloped 1 1/2 miles. And Laughing Fox, accorded an automatic place in the Pimlico starting gate via a win last week in the Oaklawn Invitational, schooled in the starting gate before having a jog.

At Belmont Park, Bourbon War put in his final timed workout for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, clocked in 1:01.67 for 5 furlongs while paired with stablemate Carlino. Trainer Mark Hennig said things didn't go quite as he expected as Bourbon War got away from his workmate quickly and easily held him at bay. But, the trainer added, "I thought it went great. He was a little aggressive." The Tapit colt was second in the Fountain of Youth and fourth in the Florida Derby.

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The Preakness will be contested without either Maximum Security or the adjudged Derby winner, Country House, who developed a cough after that race.

On the track this week:

Intrepid Heart drew the rail and was installed as the narrow 7-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Peter Pan for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. The Tapit colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, is 2-for-2 and makes his stakes debut.

"Hopefully he continues improving," Pletcher said. "Both of his first two races were very good. He seems to have the right kind of pedigree for stretching out. So far, so good."

Pletcher also saddles long shot Federal Case for the same owners.

Second-favorite in the field of five is Global Campaign, a Curlin colt who won his first two starts before being compromised while finishing a fading fifth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.

"In the Fountain of Youth, he grabbed a quarter and so we were forced to get some time off and he missed two weeks of training," trainer Stanley Hough said. "Lately, he's been training well."

In the other divisions of U.S. Thoroughbred racing:

Turf

Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park truly is an example of, "If you build it, they will come." In this case, "they" are the Irish-based, Aidan O'Brien-trained duo of Magic Wand and Hunting Horn, on the grounds in New York and ready to rock and roll in one of the most important races on the American turf schedule.

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The O'Brien duo finished fourth and fifth in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in their last start. Magic Wand was second to arguably the top American turf runner, Bricks and Mortar, in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park in January. Hunting Horn was third in the Grade I Belmont Derby last summer.

"He stays well," O'Brien's traveling lad T.J. Comerford said of Hunting Horn. "He takes to traveling well and he's the type of horse, if he's in good form, he'll always turn up on the day and run well. He looks a million dollars right now."

Magic Wand, he said, "ran very well at Gulfstream. She's here in good order and Aidan thinks a lot of her."

Bearing in mind that the international raiders, for all their breeding and talent, have a combined strike rate of 4-for-27, the morning-line favorite for Saturday's contest is neither of them but rather Focus Group. The 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, trained by Chad Brown, has won three of his last four but still has a lot to prove at this level.

The field of nine also includes millionaires Channel Maker and Arklow and California raider Epical.

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Channel Maker last year compiled a record of 2-1-1 for trainer Bill Mott while winning the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga and the Grade I Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont. The 5-year-old English Channel gelding finished fifth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf fourth in the Grade II Mac Diarmada at Gulfstream Park earlier this year.

Sprint/Dirt Mile

Some of the nation's better sprinters line up for Saturday's $150,000 Runhappy Stakes at Belmont Park. Recruiting Ready gets the nod as morning-line favorite after winning the Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint and finishing a close third in the Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland. The 5-year-old son of Algorithms will have his hoofs full with the likes of Skyler's Scramjet, a 5-year-old Creative Cause gelding who just missed to the very talented World of Trouble in the Grade I Carter in his last outing. Firenze Fire is 2-for-2 at Belmont including a 9-lengths romp in last year's Grade III Dwyer. Against those, Ready to Escape escapes the state-bred ranks and gets a 6-pound weight swing, which hardly seems enough.

Nun the Less is the lukewarm, 7-2 favorite in a well-matched field of 11 for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hanshin Cup, 1 mile on the Arlington Park all-weather track. The 7-year-old Candy Ride gelding has been tough on the artificial surfaces, winning the Kentucky Cup Classic and the Prairie Bayou at Turfway Park. He also gave a good account of himself on the Keeneland dirt April 13, finishing second in the Grade III Ben Ali. Sir Anthony, Goneghost and Lanier also figure in the Hanshin Cup, part of an exchange with the Japan Racing Association.

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Filly & Mare Sprint

Saturday's $200,000 Vagrancy at Belmont Park attracted only five and three of them were particularly attractive to the oddsmaker. Separationofpowers, the 7-5 favorite, is lightly raced and hasn't been seen since last September but has two Grade I wins from just seven career starts. Dawn the Destroyer exits two straight third-place finishes in Grade III events while Pacific Gale was second in one of those, the Distaff Handicap. Heavenhasmynikki and Holiday Disguise round out the field.

Filly & Mare Turf

Speaking of international raiders, Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park has a field of six, three of whom have significant foreign experience. Homerique, the second-favorite on the morning line, made all six previous starts in France, finishing with a third-place showing in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines behind Wild Illusion and Magic Wand. Binti Al Nar makes her first U.S. start after racing in Germany and Italy.

The favorite in the Beaugay, however, is the progressive Chad Brown trainee Competitionofideas. The 4-year-old Speightstown filly was 3-for-7 last year and closed out that campaign with an impressive victory in the Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita Dec. 29.

Causeforcommotion, after hitting the board in 11 of her last 12 starts, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Barbara at Santa Anita. It's a close call, though, with Animosity, Lynn's Legacy and German import Guiliana all boasting impressive credentials for the 1 1/2 miles.

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Turf Sprint

Abyssinian, part of a trio saddled by Wesley Ward, is the morning-line favorite in a field of 13 3-year-old fillies for Saturday's $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill Downs. Abyssinian won her grass debut by 6 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park in February and enters the Mamzelle off a third-place finish against males in the Palisades Turf Sprint at Keeneland on April 4.

Ward, always seeking Royal Ascot contenders at this point in the year, also has Limestone Turf Sprint third-place finisher Chelsea Cloisters and Cincinnati Trophy Stakes winner Iva in the Mamzelle.

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