The sun didn't shine on My Old Kentucky Home on Derby Day this year and it's unlikely to shine on Saturday's Preakness, either. But for Derby winner Justify, the rain disappeared as he took the track at Pimlico for the first time.
The Peakness, middle jewel of the Triple Crown, is the highlight of another massive international weekend of Thoroughbred racing.
Pimlico has a full slate of stakes supporting the Preakness with additional important racing on both coasts and at Arlington Park.
Red Lion has already roared at York in England, staking his claim to Derby consideration. Yet to come is the Group 1 Lockinge at Newbury with Rhododendron set to bloom. The 3-year-old fillies -- and some of their first-crop sires -- shine in Japan.
But first, back to Old Hilltop.
The Triple Crown
A field of eight is set for Saturday's Preakness and Justify got the same No. 7 gate he used en route to victory in the Kentucky Derby. The colt arrived Wednesday and went to the sloppy track Thursday morning -- and the rain, after a morning-long, drenching downpour, suddenly stopped.
Everything is going right for Justify.
The colt then stretched his legs and trainer Bob Baffert, seeking his second Triple Crown, said, "We took him out there and we backed him up to near the half-mile pole and just went easy around there. We didn't want to do too much because of the condition of the track."
Justify is the 1-2 favorite to win the Preakness and move on to a shot at the Triple Crown three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes. The main rivals are Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic and a "new shooter", Quip, who is owned by the same team as Justify.
Good Magic's rider, Jose Ortiz, said from New York after morning workouts, "It's a small field and if we have a clean trip, I'm sure we could turn the tables on [Justify] on Saturday. We just have to make up 2 1/2 lengths [the margin in Louisville]. It's not like he beat us 10 or 20 lengths."
On the other hand, Good Magic wasn't making up any ground in the late going in the Derby and barely saved second over Audible's late run up the rail. So, for Justify, Baffert and jockey Mike "Big Money Mike" Smith, it's a case of, "If you can beat 'em, bet 'em."
In other racing around North America:
None of the top three from the Kentucky Oaks resurfaces in Friday's $250,000 Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico, leaving this one a wide-open affair. Coach Rocks is the 7-2 morning-line favorite despite finishing seventh at Churchill Downs but the record of two wins from nine starts does not inspire total confidence in the Oxbow filly. Godolphin's Sara Street looks like a comer and you gotta like a filly names Stakes On a Plane (by Run Away and Hide).
Wesley Ward has a Royal Ascot prospect on trial in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Arlington Matron. Con Te Partiro makes her first start on the all-weather as the favorite in a field of eight. Last summer, the 4-year-old upset the Sandringham Handicap at the Royal meeting but she has not won since, while racing in top company. "We had her training at Turfway Park all winter," Ward said. "I realize that no two artificial surfaces are the same but hopefully she takes to it the way she did at Turfway." The opposition includes Daddy's Boo, winner of 15 of her 27 starts, is second pick on the morning line. The Illinois-bred is Babybluesbdancing. Moonlit Garden, who took 11 tries to find the winner's circle, now seeks her third straight win in an ambitious placing.
Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Selene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine has a field of eight with Go Noni Go and Dixie Moon as the morning-line favorites. Go Noni Go exits a victory in the DRF Bets Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park, so she is proven on the all-weather. Dixie Moon had three wins over the Woodbine all-weather last year and finished second in the Grade I Natalma.
Blue Prize and Verve's Tale compete for the favorite's role in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Allaire duPont Distaff at Pimlico. Blue Prize, a Group 1 winner in her native Argentina, has two wins from her last three starts. Verve's Tale hasn't won for a while and finished third behind Blue Prize in their most recent start, the Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct.
Based on the field Saturday's $250,000 Dixie at Pimlico should be a Grade I event, although officially it's Grade II. The field of eight includes Breeders' Cup Mile winner World Approval, last year's Grade I Turf Classic winner Divisidero, Grade III Commonwealth Derby winner Just Howard, Grade II Penn Mile winner Frostmourne and a couple others who have been close in graded stakes company. World Approval does come off a rare loss at Santa Anita but he is proved on less-than-firm going, which seems likely for this.
A competitive field of eight turned out for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. Some In Tieme, Designed for War, Roman Approval, Vettori Kin and Harlan Strong all are posted at single-digit odds on the morning line for the 1 1/2-miles turf battle.
Filly & Mare Turf
Eight distaffers are set for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Gallorette at Pimlico. Last year's winner and third-place finisher Cambodia and Elysea's World, are the morning-line favorites. French import Blessed Silence is worth a long look in her second U.S. start, especially if the race is run on sodden turf.
Thewayiam is the 3-5 morning-line favorite for Friday's $100,000 Hilltop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico and deservedly so after three wins and a second from her last four starts, three of them graded stakes. The Graham Motion-trained filly, by Thewayyouare, has shown ability on off going, too.
Saturday's $100,000 James W. Murphy for 3-year-olds at Pimlico is a total mystery, especially given the likely sodden turf. Several of the nine make their first start on the green. The morning-line favorite, Say the Word, just broke his maiden -- on his sixth try. A few others are fleeing the fringes of the Triple Crown trail. See if it stays on the grass. See who stays in. Stab the program for your pick.
Nine-year-old Hogy and lightly raced 4-year-old Imprimis are the favorites in Friday's $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico. Imprimis, a Broken Vow gelding, kicked off his career at Gulfstream Park this winter, winning all three starts, albeit significantly lower on the class ladder. Hogy makes his 52nd start and has faced some of the best in the business. Experience likely trumps youth in this one. Or, as HRRN's Jude Feld might say, "Old guys rule."
Saturday's $100,000 The Very One for fillies and mares at Pimlico features a full field and lot of speed. The race is carded for 5 furlong on the grass and seven of the 14 enter with a win in their last outing. Girls Know Best, the morning-line favorite, was a handy winner with a field-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure in her last outing, a victory at Keeneland over a yielding course.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Soaring Softly for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park is another handicapping puzzle with at least half the nine-filly field having legitimate claims. The narrow morning-line favorite is Africa, a French-bred filly who finished second in the Mizdirection Stakes at Aqueduct in her last start. But this could go a lot of ways.
Long Haul Bay, Switzerland and Lewisfield stand out among nine in for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Maryland Sprint at Pimlico. Switzerland is 2-for-3 on wet tracks but some of the longer shots on the morning line also might qualify for the old Daily Racing Form "mud bug". This bears careful watching.
Mitole rounded into super form at Oaklawn Park this spring and, off two straight wins there, is the odds-on favorite among nine 3-year-olds entered for Saturday's $200,000 Chick Lang at Pimlico Mitole, an Eskendereya colt, won the Bachelor Stakes in his most recent outing in Arkansas, earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. The field also includes Grade III Hutcheson Stakes runner-up Soutache and Grade III Gotham runner-up Old Time Revival.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Good Move started her career with a pair of winning moves at Oaklawn Park and, on that basis, the favorite for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Adena Springs Miss Preakness for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico. The Broken Vow filly hasn't really been tested yet and won on a wet track in her career bow. The nine-filly field also includes Happy Like a Fool, who finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot last year for trainer Wesley Ward and could be headed back to that venue with a good effort in Friday's tilt.
Ms Locust Point headlines a field of eight for Friday's $100,000 Skipat Stakes at Pimlico. The 4-year-old Dialed In filly won four straight before an off-the-board finish in the Grade I Madison at Keeneland after a tough trip. Vertical Oak, a 4-year-old daughter of Giant Oak, also is capable on her best.
Before Justify emerged as a monster, Ax Man was one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects in Bob Baffert's barn. That blew up when the Misremembered colt faded badly through the stretch in the Grade II San Vicente. But he came back with an easy win April 8 at the Great Race Place and now surfaces as the favorite for Saturday's Sir Barton at Pimlico. Also here is Pony Up, a Todd Pletcher-Calumet Farm colt by Aikenite who was second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and third in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland.
Friday's $300,000 Grade III Pimlico Special looks wide open with Irish War Cry, One Liner, Rated R Superstar, Hedge Fund, Afleet Willy, Something Awesome and Untrapped all having claims. N.B.: Afleet Willy is a mudder with four wins and a second from five starts on the wet.
Over the bounding waves:
Roaring Lion roared down the stretch at York on Thursday, easily winning the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes and stating his case for the Investec Derby. Under Oisin Murphy, the Kitten's Joy colt idled in mid-pack through the extended 2,000-meters Dante, found a seam as the field spread across the track in the stretch run and jetted off to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Mildenberger. Zabriskie was third.
Roaring Lion was ranked high on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby standings last fall after a win in the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket. But he was never intended for Louisville and went on to finish second, beaten just a neck by Investec Derby favorite Saxon Warrior, in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy to end his juvenile campaign. Thursday's victory eased doubts raised by two disappointments earlier this season, including a dull fifth in the Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas, won by Saxon Warrior.
Harry Angel got his 4-year-old campaign off to a flying start with a nice 2-lengths victory in Wednesday's Group 2 Clipper Logistics Duke of York Stakes in the beautiful north of England. With Adam Kirby up for trainer Clive Cox, the Godolphin runner was in front 2 furlongs out in the 6-furlongs sprint and came home easily in front of Brando. As a 3-year-old, the Dark Angel colt accounted for the Group 1 Darley July Cup and the Group 1 32RedSprint Cup before finishing fourth in the Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint. He was second behind only Caravaggio in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, where he's headed again.
"It will be Ascot next and then the July Cup," said Cox, thanking Sheik Mohammed for keeping the colt in training. He did not fan flames from Down Under urging that Harry Angel be considered for the Everest in October.
Yet to come in Jolly Old England this weekend:
No, not the Royal Wedding. Although those festivities likely will compete for attention with an excellent renewal of the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. The field includes the likes of Rhododendron, Limato and Addeybb. Rhododendron is the antepost favorite among four sent out by Aidan O'Brien, also including Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Lancaster Bomber, War Decree and Deauville.
Limato, known more for his sprint ability, looks to stretch out to the mile. He was fourth at the distance in the 2016 Lockinge and sixth the same year in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Addeybb is the progressive sort, boasting two consecutive wins, most recently in the Group 2 Sandown Mile April 27.
The Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes is the second race in the mile division of the 2018 QIPCO British Champions Series.
Japan's string of weekly Grade 1 events continues Sunday at Tokyo with the Yushun Himba, or Japanese Oaks. The storyline here is the emergence of champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa and Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre with their first crop of progeny to hit the track.
Likely favorites for the 2,000-meters race are Almond Eye, by Lord Kanaloa, and Lucky Lilac, by Orfevre. They earned their way into the Yushun Himba by finishing 1-2 in the Oka Sho -- the Japanese 1000 Guineas. Lucky Lilac looked to have the Oka Sho sewed up until Almond Eye came along in the final yards to take the win. Lucky Lilac's trainer, Mikio Matsunaga, said he hopes the added distance in Sunday's race will help his filly. "She has a big stride," the trainer said, "and I've always thought she was more suited for the longer distances."
The leading duo, however, will have to contend with a full field that also includes seven nominees sired by a proven Japanese stallion, Deep Impact. Deep Impact's progeny already have accounted for three runnings of the Yushun Himba.
News and notes:
This is more a tidbit or an item than a note but still fascinating. The DRF Beyer Performance Standings shipped around Thursday list, among other things, where the top sires currently stand. Of, say, the top 40 on the list, what country, other than the United States, do you suppose hosts the greatest number of these stars? Not Australia. Not Japan.
The Republic of South Korea, with three, is the correct answer. Take Charge Indy, To Honor and Serve and Old Fashioned.