May 13 (UPI) -- Several contenders for the Preakness Stakes put in final works during the weekend -- many at Churchill Downs -- as the field for the second jewel of the Triple Crown continued to crystalize.
With the Kentucky Derby winner and the disqualified first-place finisher both out of the Preakness Stakes, attention has shifted to the beaten Derby favorite, Improbable, who continues to train at Churchill Downs for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Trainer Bob Baffert was expected to pop up on the backstretch Monday morning to watch the City Zip colt put in his final work before shipping to Pimlico for Saturday's race, Churchill Downs officials said.
Before finishing fifth in the Run for the Roses -- placed fourth after the disqualification of Maximum Security -- Improbable was second in both a division of the Rebel at Oaklawn Park and the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
"I've been admiring him from afar. And sometimes from behind him," said jockey Mike Smith, who has picked up the mount on Improbable for the Preakness. "He's outrun me a few times."
Smith, on a Friday media conference call, said Baffert told him Improbable "came out of the Derby with real good energy" and he has high hopes for the Preakness.
Improbable is one of seven Preakness contenders training at Churchill Downs before heading to Baltimore. Signalman, Owendale and Warrior's Charge all had their final pre-Preakness breeze Saturday. The others still in the shadow of the Twin Spires were War of Will, Bodexpress and Laughing Fox.
Trainer Bret Calhoun emphasized during the weekend that he has reconsidered the suggestion of sending Mr. Money to the Preakness. The colt won the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard.
"I know the Preakness was talked about with Mr. Money but there are too many races later on in the year that I didn't want to rush into anything crazy like that with him," Calhoun said. "We'll target the Matt Winn, which is a mile and a sixteenth and a solid next step after running one turn in the Pat Day Mile." The $150,000 Grade III Winn is under the lights June 15 at Churchill Downs.
On the track this weekend:
Global Campaign bounced back nicely from a disappointing effort in the Fountain of Youth two months ago, winning Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. After stalking the pace for jockey Luis Saez, the Curlin colt went out to a daylight lead in the lane, then fended off the late effort of Sir Winston, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Intrepid Heart, stumbled at the start but ran well late to get show money.
Global Campaign ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:46.71. That's some 1.31 seconds off the track record, which would not be impressive had that mark not been established in 1973 by Secretariat.
"It went quicker than we thought it would," said winning trainer Stanley Hough. "We didn't want to end up in a duel, but it looked like he did it pretty comfortably ... He missed some training after the Fountain of Youth, so (the distance) was a concern."
Asked Sunday about a start in the Belmont Stakes for Global Campaign, Hough said, "It would be great, no question. It'd be a real honor and something to cross off that list. But that's a race that you really need to work into. It's very difficult because that likely will be the last time they run a mile and a half on the dirt. It's a special race. People don't really know how hard it is even to get there. I've run a lot of horses and never ran one there."
Sir Winston definitely is pointed to the Belmont, according to trainer Mark Casse, who said he will enjoy the distance. "He's a unique horse," Casse said Sunday. "He doesn't have a whole lot of speed and he's kind of at the mercy of everyone else in the race. But he'll run all day."
On Sunday at Monmouth Park, Joevia dueled for the lead, took over late and won by 2 3/4 lengths. The Right Path was second, Union's Destiny was third and Red Gum was injured and vanned off after disputing the pace. Joevia, a Shanghai Bobby colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:44.61, rebounding from a seventh-place finish in the Grade II Wood Memorial.
"This is just what we were looking for," said Joevia's trainer, Greg Sacco. "We know he's a better horse than he showed in the Wood Memorial. That was a debacle. So we've overcome that." He said he now will target the Pegasus Stakes on June 16 and the $1 million Haskell Invitational July 20, both at Monmouth.
In the other North American racing divisions:
Channel Maker reeled in breakaway leader Hunting Horn in deep stretch to win Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Man o' War, holding off a late charge by Arklow by a scant 1/2 length. Hunting Horn's Irish stablemate, Magic Wand, edged him for third with a late run from well back. The favorite, Focus Group, was never in the mix, finishing sixth as the Turf Division continues to churn.
Channel Maker, a 5-year-old English Channel gelding, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:12.43 with Joel Rosario in the irons. The Bill Mott trainee won the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer and the Grade I Turf Classic back at Belmont in the fall but came up short in three intervening starts.
"I always thought the horse could go to the front or lay off it," said part-owner Randy Hill. "He has tactical speed and there was speed in the race today. Joel rode a perfect race and was right where he needed to be. The horse bounced back off of two subpar performances."
Hill said the decision will be up to Mott but he expects the $1 million Grade I Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day will be considered.
Filly & Mare Turf
Chalk up another one for trainer Chad Brown. Making her first U.S. start and first for Brown, Homerique swept by all five rivals in the stretch run to win Saturday's $200,000 Beaugay Stakes at Belmont Park by 1/2 length over last year's Grade I American Oaks winner, Competitionofideas. The latter, also trained by Brown, got home 2 1/2 lengths to the good of Chipolata. Homerique, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.76.
Now owned by Peter Brant, the Kentucky-bred Exchange Rate filly was no surprise. She finished third in both the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines and the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera last season in France, both times beaten less than 1 length by some of the best fillies in training.
"We were concerned that she might have been one work shy of a race," Brant said. "Chad didn't want to go into the (Grade 2) New York fresh going a mile and a quarter, so he decided to use this race and she overcame it and won. If she comes out of the race in good order and Chad keeps it in his plan, we'll be there."
On the other coast, Cause for Commotion pressed the pace down the hillside course, around the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, took the lead rounding the stretch turn and jetted off to win by 9 lengths. Lynne's Legacy was second and Guiliana was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Cause for Commotion, a 5-year-old Americain mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:26.91 with Geovanni Franco riding.
Trainer Eric Kruljac said he gave Cause for Commotion an extended break after a minor injury last year. "She has come back a monster. Before, she would not leave the horses. Hopefully, that is all behind her. She had the tendency to get the lead and then wait on them, we lost a couple of races including last year's Santa Barbara," Kruljac said.
Change of Control, at odds of 35-1, rallied from last of eight to take Saturday's $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs by 1 3/4 lengths. Abyssinian held a brief lead in the lane and finished second, 2 lengths to the good of Queen of Bermuda. Change of Control, a Fed Biz filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.25 seconds with Gabriel Saez up for trainer Michelle Lovell.
"We've tried to get her on the turf in her last couple of starts but the rain kept washing them off," Lovell said. "I think we found out she really likes the turf."
As noted here in the weekly preview, Firenze Fire is turning into a "horse for the course" at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old Poseidon's Warrior colt ran his Belmont record to 3-for-3 with an off-the-pace, 4 3/4-lengths score in Saturday's $150,000 Runhappy Stakes. The favorite, Recruiting Ready, pressed the early pace, then couldn't keep pace with the winner, finishing second, a neck in front of Bon Raison. Firenze Fire, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.12. His two previous wins over the track were in the Grade I Champagne in 2017 and the Grade III Dwyer last July.
"It played out well," said winning owner Ron Lombardi. "He loves this track. He really loves it here. It's always been my intention to go to the Met Mile. We were trying to do the Westchester last week, or here. (Trainer Jason Servis) decided the 6 furlongs would be better."
Lanier closely tracked the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park, took the lead with a quarter mile to run and edged away to a 4-lengths victory. The longest shot in the race, What's Up Dude, outfinished the favorite to get place money by a head. Lanier, a 7-year-old Lewis Michael gelding, ran 1 mile on the all-weather course in 1:35.84 with Declan Cannon up. He was coming off a second-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park.
"The Hanshin was never really on the radar when we got him," trainer Brett Santangelo said of Lanier. "We claimed him because I was going to Turfway for the winter and he had a ton of good synthetic form over there last year. We thought he might be able to show up at a few of those stakes over there at Turfway and he sure did, we had a great winter with him." Santangelo said Lanier is so versatile, "I wouldn't be afraid to run him 5 1/2 furlongs and I wouldn't be afraid to run him over a mile on the Poly."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Heavenhasmynikki scored her first open stakes win Saturday in the $200,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park. Leading all the way under jockey Kendrick Carmouche, the 4-year-old Majestic Warrior filly held on in the final strides to win by a neck over Pacific Gale. Separationofpowers, the favorite, weakened late to finish third. Heavenhasmynikki finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.99. Ninth in last year's Kentucky Oaks, her only previous stakes wins came against fellow Ohio-breds at Thistledown and BelTerra.
"I felt she had a pace advantage here," said Heavenhasmynikki's trainer, Robert Hess Jr. "I felt we needed every bit of that. She's a nice filly. I think she's on the improve and hopefully we can run her in New York the rest of the year."
In other action:
Wendell Fong surged to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes for 3-year-olds and splashed away to a 2 1/2-lengths victory. Call Paul was second and Releasethethunder finished third. Wendell Fong, a Flat Out colt, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:10.06 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
Marconi didn't quite wire the field in Thursday's $100,000, 11-furlongs Flat Out Stakes but he came close. After letting Tour de Force spurt out to a substantial lead, Marconi gradually closed the gap, took the point at the eighth pole and won off by 2 3/4 length. Rocketry came from last of five to edge Tour de Force for second. Marconi, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, finished in 2:15.35 with Jose Lezcano up.
Cordiality seized the lead rather quickly in Sunday's $100,000 Fran's Valentine for California-bred fillies and mares, led the rest of the way and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Queen Bee to You. Pulpit Rider was third. Cordiality, a 6-year-old mare by Papa Clem, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.70 with Joe Talamo riding.
Proving a rough race and a disqualification don't require 19 horses, Goodonehoney finished first by 4 lengths in Saturday's $75,000 Serena's Song Stakes for fillies and mares, then was demoted to third for bumping with Forever Liesl during an incident on the backstretch. The race had a field of just four. The stewards' action promoted Breaking Bread to victory and Forever Liesl, the odds-on favorite, to second. Malibu Surprise completed the order of finish. The 1 mile and 70 yards went in 1:44.24 over a fast track.
Taylor's Spirit stalked pacesetting Ima Discreeet Lady around the turn in Friday's $50,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then went by to win by 1 1/4 lengths from that rival. Konza Kandy finished third. Taylor's Spirit, an Algorithms filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.02 with Kevin Roman in the irons.
Royal Squeeze stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Big Drama Stakes for Florida-breds, took the lead turning for home and cruised under the wire first by 1 1/4 lengths. Garter and Tie rallied from far back to finish second and Mr. Edgar was third. Royal Squeeze, a 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.33 with Jairo Rendon up.
Speedy Soul attended the pace in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Fran's Valentine Stakes for Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies, worked to the lead in the lane and held gamely, winning by 3/4 length from Hastalavistababy. Western Curl was third, giving trainer Mark Casse a sweep of the trifecta, which paid $99 for $1 (Canadian). Speedy Soul, a daughter of Souper Speedy, sped 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.39 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Summer Sunday dueled to the lead on a spring Saturday in the $100,000 (Canadian) Ballade Stakes for Ontario-sired fillies and mares, then controlled matters and drew off to a 2 1/4-lengths victory. Silent Sonnet was second, 1/2 length in front of Scotty's Model. Summer Sunday, a 4-year-old Silent Name filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.57 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
Mucho Amor didn't want to load before Sunday's $50,000 Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. She wasn't too keen about hanging around the gate, either, blasting out to contest the early lead, then drawing off to win by 6 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Alittlelesstalk beat the others with Killarney Lass a further 5 lengths back in third. Mucho Amor, a daughter of Mucho Macho Man, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.76 with Juan Hernandez riding.
H.F. Carmel trailed early in Sunday's $75,000, off-the-turf Tomboy Stakes for 3-year-old, Ohio-bred fillies, snuck through along to rail to take the lead and won off by 4 1/2 lengths. Market Success was second, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Drillit. H.F. Carmel, a daughter of Revolutionary, got 1 1/16 miles on the sloppy main track in 1:47.12 with Gerardo Corrales up.
Mobil Solution got by pacesetting favorite Midnight Mikey after a stirring stretch drive to win Saturday's $75,000 Michael F. Rowland Handicap for Ohio-breds by 1/2 length. Direct Deceit was third, 5 3/4 lengths back of Midnight Mikey. Mobil Solution, a 4-year-old Mobil gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.02 with Luis Rivera at the controls.
Aaron's Tap, the odds-on favorite, progressed steadily through the 4 1/2 furlongs of Saturday's $50,000 It's Only Money Stakes, then drew off late to win by 2 lengths. The next six horses were separated by less than 1 lengths with C. D. Jammin a nose in front of last Plunge to complete the trifecta. Aaron's Tap, a 5-year-old Northern Afleet gelding, finished in 51.81 seconds under Arnoldo Bocachica.
Harking surged by the leader four-wide late in Sunday's $50,000 Budweiser Stakes for fillies and mares and got away to a 3-lengths victory. Waltzing Attila was second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Kram. Harking, a 4-year-old Dominus filly, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.37 seconds for jockey Jansen Melancon.