1 of 3 | Mage, shown winning the Kentucky Derby on May 6, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI | License Photo
May 19 (UPI) -- For the first time in what could be considered the "modern era," Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, the second jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown, has only one contestant returning from the Kentucky Derby -- the winner, Mage.
The race does, however, have some interesting and promising "new shooters" among the other seven in the short field.
And it marks trainer Bob Baffert's return to the Triple Crown trail for the first time since he was suspended by Churchill Downs after the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Pimlico is the center ring of weekend horse racing action, but there are other important heats set for Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and Belmont Park.
On the world scene, Tokyo Racecourse has the Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks with Liberty Island looking to following in the hoofprints of such luminaries as Almond Eye, Loves Only You and Daring Tact.
In England, there's the Lockinge at Newbury. We already have results from early in the week at York -- see the "Around the world" section to find out who's headed to the Derby and the Oaks.
And, as usual on these big weekends, a peek at the thoughts of industry expert Jude Feld can only help clarify matters. He's available at popejude.com.
Away we go.
The Triple Crown
Of course, Mage is the morning-line Preakness favorite. It would be surprising if the Derby winner weren't the favorite. On the flip side, the opposition in the Preakness normally is led by other Derby runners, providing some measuring stick.
This time around, only one of his seven rivals has ever lined up against Mage before. That was Perform, who logged his fifth start without a win while finishing fourth in a maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18 -- Mage's first start and first win.
Although his owners and trainer waited nearly a week after the Derby before confirming they would enter him in the Preakness, Mage appears ready.
Mage galloped Wednesday and Thursday at Pimlico with Gustavo Delgado Jr., assistant to his trainer father, reporting the Good Magic colt has showed increasing energy through the week. Before Wednesday's work, he reared up leaving the track as if he wanted to do more.
"He was showing off a little bit. He's feeling good," Delgado said.
Mage still has a lot to prove in his young career and coming back on two weeks' rest against a fresh slate of opponents will be an important test.
On the other hand, those opponents enter with lots of promise, but only 17 wins from 46 starts combined. And many of those wins were well down the class structure.
Baffert sends out one of the big threats in National Treasure, a Quality Road colt who finished fourth in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby in his last start. He has only one win from five starts, but has been moving in the right direction, and his racing style might suit a race lacking much pace.
Baffert, looking for a record eighth Preakness victory, was suspended and banned from Churchill Downs for two years when the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, tested slightly above the limit for a therapeutic corticosteroid permitted in training, but not on race day. He has let assistant Jimmy Barnes handle things at Pimlico this week.
Medina Spirit, who died in December 2021, was disqualified from the Derby victory for failing a drug test after the race.
Steve Asmussen offers Red Route One, winner of the Bathhouse Row Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his last. The Gun Runner colt was sixth in the Grade I Arkansas Derby before that.
Like Mage and several others, his form says he'll be making a late run and hoping the front-runners will be tiring in the stretch.
The same is true for Blazing Sevens, third in the Grade I Blue Grass in his most recent outing and 2-for-6 overall, and the aforementioned Perform, who blossomed after he finally figured things out.
Perform was supplemented to the race for $150,000 after winning the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park -- his second straight win after those five also-ran efforts.
Many of those looking to beat Mage, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, will be turning to First Mission, winner of the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 15.
The Preakness will be only his fourth start, but his form indicates he could inherit the lead and, if no one goes with him, he could be long gone before the closers get wound up.
The current spacing of the Triple Crown races, with two weeks between the Derby and Preakness, and then three weeks to the Belmont Stakes, was put in place in 1969.
The Daily Racing Form's David Grening dove into the record books to discover this is the first time since then that only one horse who ran in the Derby returned to contest the Preakness.
Looking beyond the Preakness:
Rattle N Roll didn't make it to last year's Kentucky Derby but has worked out to be a really useful horse ever since, winning the American Derby, St. Louis Derby and Oklahoma Derby last year.
He comes into Friday's $250,000 Grade III Pimlico Special as the morning-line favorite after winning the Grade III Ben Ali at Keeneland over the same 1 3/16 miles. Law Professor also looks likely after winning the Excelsior Stakes in the mud at Aqueduct in his last outing.
Arabian Lion gives it another go in Saturday's $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds at Pimlico. The Justify colt looked like a world-beater last fall, but faded in two graded stakes in California during the winter.
He returned with a second-place finish in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland and, freed from restrictions imposed on Triple Crown contenders, gets the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for the first time. The Baffert charge also catches a relatively soft field.
Faiza looms large against 11 rivals in Friday's $300,000 Grade II George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-olds at Pimlico.
The Girvin filly, also trained by Baffert, is undefeated after five starts including last year's Grade I Starlet and this year's Grade III Las Virgenes, Grade III Santa Ysabel and Grade II Santa Anita Oaks.
She has improved steadily and her speed figure from the Oaks tops anything else in the field. But she does ship for the first time and meets a lot of new opposition.
Friday's $100,000 Allaire DuPont Stakes at Pimlico drew six fillies and mares. Falconet, winner of the Top Flight invitational at Aqueduct in her last, and Interstatedaydream, winner of last year's Black-Eyed Susan, are the favorites. Le Da Vida and Butterbean merit at least a glance.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Chick Lang Stakes for 3-year-olds at Pimlico features Havnameltdown, an Uncaptured colt making his first start since finishing second in the $1.5 million Group 3 Saudi Derby.
Derma Sotogake, UAE Derby winner and Kentucky Derby contender, was third in the Saudi race. Havnameltdown, yet another from the Baffert barn, won four of his first five races in California, all graded stakes, has been throwing more bullets than Dirty Harry in workouts since his return.
Into the bargain, he got a potentially advantageous rail draw. Ryvit, Super Chow and Prince of Jericho should provide plenty of opposition.
Nakatomi and Straight No Chaser are the morning-line picks among 10 in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes at Pimlico. Nakatomi might benefit from a speed duel including Straight No Chaser and some longer shots.
Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) King Corrie Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Woodbine all-weather track drew a field of eight, none yet showing world-beating form.
Velocitor and Twin City make their 2023 debut after winding up 2022 with a 1-2 longshot finish in the Coronation Futurity behind the highly regarded Philip My Dear.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Key of Life and Maple Street Mel are the morning-line picks in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies set for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
Key of Life, the even-money favorite, exits two nice wins at Oaklawn Park and Keeneland, the latter in the Grade II Beaumont, going 1 furlong longer than this 6-furlongs tilt.
Maple Street Mel is 3-for-3 with all the wins by big margins. All were achieved versus fellow New York-breds but some of those are pretty nice fillies and, all being equal, she will be the one to catch.
Beguine and I'm the Boss of Me are the morning-line favorites in Saturday's $100,000 Skipat Stakes at Pimlico, but a lot of attention will go to Gunning, a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Mage.
That 4-year-old comes into the 6-furlongs Skipat with a record of 3-2-1 from seven career starts and was last seen finishing second in Oaklawn's Dig A Diamond Stakes.
Eight 3-year-old fillies were entered for Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ruling Angel Stakes at 7 furlongs on the Woodbine all-weather track. Mark Casse trains three of them and Josie Carroll handles another three.
The morning line favorite, though, is the Kevin Attard-trained Last Call, making her first start since reporting sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November at Keeneland.
Therapist, Another Mystery and Bay Street Money top the morning line for Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Louisville Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Therapist and Bay Street Money finished 1-2 in the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream in their last start going this same 1 1/2 miles. Another Mystery comes off a good third in the Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland at the same trip.
Several of the major players in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Dinner Party Stakes at Pimlico come off very poor outings.
One that does not is Hurricane Dream, a French import who struggled in the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January, finishing 10th -- although just 4 lengths back -- and then returned with a valuable allowance win at Keeneland on the way to this.
Saturday's $100,000 James W. Murphy Stakes for 3-year-olds at Pimlico is a 1-mile affair and that's right up the alley of the morning-line favorite, Nagirroc.
The Lea colt is 2-2-2 from six starts, all on the turf at 1 mile or shorter. He exits a second in the Grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland. He'll have to catch Funtastic Again, winner of three in a row on the Turfway Park all-weather.
Filly & Mare Turf
Friday's $100,000 Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico is a 1-mile affair for 3-year-old fillies with a cast of 12. The favorites, Breath Away and Aunt Shirley, are drawn in the inside gates although the former likely will take back for one run. Up and Down and Well Into also are worth a look.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gallorette Stakes at Pimlico is a wide-open affair with seven entries, five of whom won or finished second in their last start.
Among those is Sopran Basilea, a Night of Thunder mare last seen finishing second by a neck in the Group 2 Premio Lydia Tesio at Campanelle in Rome. Another import, Whitebeam, looks tough in her second U.S. start for Chad Brown. Vergara always looks attractive.
Her World, another of those Wesley Ward-trained turf sprinters, is a narrow morning-line favorite in a competitive field for Friday's $100,000 The Very One Stakes for fillies and mares at Pimlico.
She may have to slug it out on the front end with a couple other speedy ones including Spicy Marg. Can the Queen is 3-for-5 on the Pimlico lawn and won this last year, leading gate to wire.
Charging and Eye Witness are the oddsmaker's top picks among nine set for Saturday's $150,000 Paradise Creek Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. Charging, a Candy Ride colt, is trained by Brad Cox. Eye Witness, by City of Light, is conditioned by Wesley Ward.
Nine are in for Saturday's $100,000 Mizdirection Stakes down the Santa Anita hillside turf course. The oddsmaker had a tough time separating them and so do we. Look at Canoodling, Honey Pants and One Silk Stocking among others.
Saturday's $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico drew a field of 13 with lots of moving parts. The contenders last ran at seven different tracks and on both dirt and turf.
Artemis City Limits has finished behind the fabulous Caravel in each of his last two starts and, if he can recover from a clunker last time, would be the one to beat. That was a pretty clunky clunker, though.
Sunday's $100,000 Desert Code Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita drew six entries to tackle the hillside course. First Peace has been improving and won the local John Shear Stakes in his most recent start, defeating a few of these rivals.
Around the world, around the clock
Liberty Island takes her chance to advance on the road to stardom in Sunday's Grade 1 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks at Tokyo Racecourse.
The Duramente filly has won three of four starts, including last season's finale, the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and her 3-year-old debut, the Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas.
In the Guineas, she was a step slow out of the gate, last of 18 turning into the stretch and won by 3/4 length in a rather amazing performance.
"She was a long way back in her last race, but she certainly showed what ability she has when flying home at the finish," assistant trainer Taku Fukunaga said.
Many of the same rivals return including the Guineas runner-up, Kona Coast, for whom assistant trainer Michihiro Oshita predicted better things.
"It was a perfect race for her last time but she couldn't win because the winner was so strong," Oshita said. "The distance this time will be longer [2,400 meters versus the 1,600 meters of the Guineas], and as she isn't such a muscular type of horse, it should be better for her."
The Oaks has produced superstar winners in the recent past, among them Almond Eye, Loves Only You and Daring Tact.
Who's headed to the Derby and Oaks after this week's battles up north? Read on.
The Foxes, patiently ridden by Oisin Murphy, grabbed the lead well into the stretch run in Thursday's Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York and held off the late bid of White Birch to win by a neck.
Continuous dead-heated for third and fourth with the favorite, Passenger.
The Foxes, a Churchill colt trained by Andrew Balding, had failed to hold the lead in his only previous start this season, the Group 3 Craven Stakes at Newmarket at 1 mile but had just enough at the extended 1 1/2 miles of the Dante.
"We always had a doubt whether he would stay a mile and a half," Racing Post quoted winning trainer Andrew Balding as saying. "But I think on today's evidence an extra couple of furlongs won't go amiss. He looks a likely candidate" for the Derby.
Murphy agreed, saying, "We're not guaranteed that he'll stay but he gives himself every chance because he's sleepy and that's all you want." By that, he meant the colt relaxes during the race.
White Birch also is headed to Epsom and a decision will be made about Passenger, who was blocked repeatedly in the stretch run in the Dante.
Soul Sister not only ran her way into the Oaks Wednesday with a surprise win in the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes but shot all the way up to join the favorites by virtue of the impressive nature of the victory.
With Frankie Dettori up, the Frankel filly ran away from her rivals in the final furlong to win by 4 lengths, eliciting from her rider, "I wasn't expecting that."
Trainer John Gosden, who also has Pretty Polly Stakes winner Running Lion prepped for the Oaks, also was taken by surprise, saying per Racing Post, "I expected a big run, but I will admit I didn't expect her to win by 4 lengths."
Seven previous Musidora winners have gone on to success in the Oaks on Epsom Downs and Soul Sister's odds plummeted after Wednesday's win to as low as 4-1 in some lines.