The biggest weekend on the Maryland circuit gets underway Friday with a blockbuster card highlighted by a loaded renewal of the Grade 3 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on what could be the best weather day of the spring to date. The forecast calls for 70-degree temperatures and plenty of sunshine - a far cry from what's expected Saturday for the 141st Preakness Stakes at Old Hilltop.
The Maryland Jockey Club carded 14 races for Friday's Black-Eyed Susan-Pimlico Special card, a program that includes seven stakes in various divisions and tremendous wagering opportunities. Our handicappers are hoping for a bit more luck after a relatively mediocre performance two weeks ago in Louisville for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
Sean led the way with five winners on the weekend, including the all-important correct Kentucky Derby selection of Nyquist, while Joe and Tom struggled with just three.
First post is a little earlier this year, 11:30 a.m. ET, so make sure you polish off that Bloody Mary and finish lunch or that late breakfast with plenty of time to make the opener. Good luck.
Skipat. $100,000, 3-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 6 furlongs. 12:32 p.m. ET
Fantastic Style exits second at 1-2 in Grade 2 Great Lady M and is pegged at same price for her first start finishing second in the Grade 2 Beaumont in April 2015 at Keeneland. Bob Baffert looks to get back to same form that led to three straight stakes wins, including 2015 Great Lady M and Grade 3 Las Flores in March. Tough to believe Thirteen Arrows, who ran poorly in Great Lady M after strong form in the south and southeast last year and in early 2016, will be 10-1.
Tom: Fantastic Style, Thirteen Arrows, Disco Chick.
Joe: Thirteen Arrows, Fantastic Style, Disco Chick.
Sean: Fantastic Style, Disco Chick, Thirteen Arrows.
Pimlico Special (G3). $300,000, 3-year-olds and up, 1 3/16 miles. 2:39 p.m.
Marquee event on the circuit for older horses took a hit Thursday when it was announced morning-line favorite Stanford would bypass the race in favor of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap next month. Page McKenney was second to Stanford in Grade 2 Charles Town Classic last time and carries the banner for the local contingent. Second in the Special last year, 6-year-old son of Eavesdropper owns 16 career wins and would be huge story if he gets the job done.
Tom: Page McKenney, Idolo Porteno, Noble Bird.
Joe: Page McKenney, Idolo Porteno, Noble Bird.
Sean: Page McKenney, Idolo Porteno, Savoy Stamp.
Jim McKay Turf Sprint. $100,000, 3-year-olds and up, 5 furlongs, turf. 3:13 p.m.
Speaking of locals, there are none better than the legendary Ben's Cat. Already a four-time winner of this race, including the last three, Ben's Cat prepped for title defense with victory over fellow McKay entrants Rapid Dan, Night Officer and Jack's In The Deck in allowance turf sprint May 1 at Laurel Park. Spring To The Sky was lights-out turf sprinter in 2014, tailed off a bit last year but returns from good freshening for Maryland return.
Tom: Ben's Cat, Spring To The Sky, Rocket Heat.
Joe: Ben's Cat, Night Officer, Rocket Heat.
Sean: Rocket Heat, Ben's Cat, Night Officer.
Allaire du Pont Distaff (G3). $150,000, 3-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/8 miles. 3:44.
Well-matched group of 10 older females from some of the top barns in the country with Mark Casse, Dale Romans, Todd Pletcher, Tom Proctor, Bill Mott, Steve Asmussen and Graham Motion all represented with entries. Neil Howard looks to upset the apple cart - and relive the magic from 27 years ago when he won the Preakness with Summer Squall - as he sends out Ahh Chocolate. Engagingless chased Curalina in Grade 1 La Troienne last time, while Mei Ling comes off good second in Grade 3 Top Flight at Aqueduct.
Tom: Ahh Chocolate, Mei Ling, Engaginglee.
Joe: Savings Account, Ahh Chocolate, Mei Ling.
Sean: Mei Ling, Savings Account, Ahh Chocolate.
Hilltop. $100,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 1 1/16 miles, turf. 4:16 p.m.
Undoubtedly the best betting race on the card - full field of 14 (and two more on the AE list) and just about every angle you can imagine. Spinamiss and Princess Princess chased Catch A Glimpse unsuccessfully at Keeneland last time and try to land first stakes victories. Family Meeting won the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante last fall as a 2-year-old and ran well in three successive stakes tries without winning. And then there's Wessex. Daughter of Unbridled's Song won her debut April 2 at Gulfstream and jumps to stakes company for Bill Mott in second start from extreme outside post.
Tom: Wessex, La Piba, Spinamiss.
Joe: Miss Katie Mae, Family Meeting, Wessex.
Sean: Miss Katie Mae, Family Meeting, Spinamiss.
Black-Eyed Susan (G2). $250,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 1 1/8 miles. 4:50 p.m.
Land Over Sea and Go Maggie Go were second and fourth, respectively, two weeks ago in the Kentucky Oaks and figure to take a lion's share of the wagering in full field for 92nd renewal of signature event. Big question, like one that will be asked Saturday in the Preakness, is how they bounce back in two weeks. Perhaps a fresh filly gets it done, and if so, will it be Kinsley Kisses, She's A Warrior, Dothraki Queen or maybe Midnight On Oconee?
Tom: Land Over Sea, Kinsley Kisses, Dothraki Queen.
Joe: Go Maggie Go, Land Over Sea, She's A Warrior.
Sean: She's A Warrior, Land Over Sea, Kinsley Kisses.
Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3). $150,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 6 furlongs. 5:54 p.m.
Well-matched group of 10 lines up for final stakes of the day and legitimate case can be made for roughly half the field. Strongest case perhaps for Moment Is Right, second last time in small stakes at Los Alamitos in first start for Simon Callaghan. Daughter of Medaglia d'Oro won last year's Astoria at Belmont and finished fourth in Grade 3 Schuylerville in the care of Wesley Ward. Speaking of Ward, he sends out Banree, overmatched when fifth last time in Grade 1 Ashland and shortening up to preferred sprint trip.
Tom: Moment Is Right, Lost Raven, She's All Ready.
Joe: Lost Raven, Banree, R Girls A Charmer.
Sean: Moment Is Right, Lost Raven, Ultra Brat.