Actress showed up in Jason Servis’ barn last fall at Monmouth Park without a start to her name, any noticeable physical issues and a tremendous upside in the eyes of her new conditioner.
“She’s been a clean-legged filly since I’ve had her,” Servis said of Gary and Mary West’s homebred daughter of Tapit out of the Milwaukee Brew mare Milwaukee Appeal. “Maybe it was just some immatureness, why she hadn’t run.”
Servis got two starts into Actress before Friday’s Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico Race Course. She was still without a victory, and even a try at a distance greater than 7 furlongs, when she lined up against 10 others in front of 50,339 in the signature race on the Preakness eve card.
Actress shed that maiden status in the 1:51.87 it took her to run the 9 furlongs Pimlico’s sloppy track in the Black-Eyed Susan, a victory that validated her conditioner’s opinion of the big gray filly that went back to the first days in his care last fall in New Jersey.
“She’s bred to run all day,” Servis said from the winner’s circle. “She’s a humongous, big lanky filly. We always felt that no matter what she was going to make that run and there it is. It really worked. It’s nice when you’re right once in a while. I always liked her.”
Servis loved Actress’ pedigree, she’s the first foal out of a Canadian champion who faced males in her native country’s spring classics at 3 and knocked heads with some of the best of her gender in North America in races like the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Alabama, Spinster, Delaware Handicap and Gazelle. He knew she’d negotiate a route of ground and she showed promise in her previous two starts at Gulfstream Park – a 6-furlong maiden and the 7-furlong restricted Game Face Stakes.
Actress finished second in both of those races, good efforts but a far cry from the accomplishments of some of the fillies she’d face in the Black-Eyed Susan.
Shimmering Aspen went to the post as the slight favorite off three straight blowout victories for Rodney Jenkins. Todd Pletcher, who sends out Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming in Saturday’s Preakness, sent out the pair of Lights Of Medina and Moana, while Mark Casse went with Gary Barber’s pair of Summer Luck and Corporate Queen.
The rest of the field, while undoubtedly not as deep as the Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago, featured Grade 1 winner Dancing Rags, multiple stakes winner Yorkiepoo Princess and the stakes-placed duo of Torrent and Full House.
Servis was unfazed. He was equally undeterred when the skies opened up in Baltimore shortly before the Black-Eyed Susan, turning the recently sealed main track sloppy.
“It’s such a humbling business; you can’t get too high on your horse and I’ve got to be careful what I tell you guys because you write it down, put me up like … “ Servis said, laughing but being a bit guarded at the same time. “The truth of the matter is I was coming no matter who was in there. This is a good filly. If she comes and makes her run …
“Bill Poston, one of my owners, he called and said, ‘I know you’re taking this filly down there she’s not getting by me.’ ”
Actress went off at nearly 13-1, going to the post with the other 10 fillies as heavy rain came down and claps of thunder greeted the field during the prelims.
“With her pedigree, really she could run on anything,” Servis said when asked his thoughts about the wet track.
Nik Juarez, who rode Actress in her two starts in South Florida, settled the filly toward the back of the field after the break and past the stands the first time as Tapa Tapa Tapa set the pace. Full House, Moana and Shimmering Aspen gave chase in the early stages.
“We knew from running out of the 6-furlong chute that she was a runner,” Juarez said. “I found she really liked being behind the dirt. I said, ‘let’s send her around two turns,’ and Jason said the same thing.”
Much of the field was about done as the field rounded that second turn, but not Actress. She steadied off the heels of some tiring rivals turning for home but quickly regrouped and took aim at Shimming Aspen on the lead in midstretch.
Actress edged clear under a right-handed whip from Juarez inside the eighth pole and held off a late run from Lights Of Medina to win by a head. Corporate Queen, another longshot at 26-1, finished 2 lengths back while the 21-1 Torrent finished fourth. Shimmering Aspen faded to seventh.
The Black-Eyed Susan was the first of Friday’s seven stakes run on anything but a fast track or firm turf. The intermittent rains, which helped cut into the high heat that ran through the area the past few days, also left the track sloppy for the final stakes of the day, the $100,000 Skipat run two races after the Black-Eyed Susan.
Mike Repole’s New York-bred homebred Clipthecouponannie won the Skipat, coming from just off the pace to defeat Summer Reading by 1 1/2 lengths under John Velazquez for Pletcher.
Stonestreet Stable’s Terra Promessa started the day’s stakes action with a powerful victory in the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff. The 4-year-old daughter of Curlin won the Grade 3 DuPont by 7 1/2 lengths over Carrumba, the first of two stakes victories on the day for jockey Jose Ortiz and trainer Steve Asmussen. Ortiz and Asmussen teamed up four races later to win the Grade 3 Adena Springs Miss Preakness with Vertical Oak.
Jimmy Jerkens enjoyed a double of his own, sending out the exacta in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special as Shaman Ghost ran down a stubborn Dolphus to win by a neck. Sent off as the 2-5 favorite off his victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March and a runner-up effort to Arrogate in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup in late January, Shaman Ghost gave Jerkens his first victory in the Special.
A thrilled Dede McGehee, who bred and races Dolphus, was the first to greet Jerkens and his wife Shirley after he walked back across the track from the winner’s celebration near the Pimlico cupola.
“Holy cow, I thought we were going to win it,” McGehee said. “Jimmy, he’s the best. Smart as heck. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t tell you much, but boy he’s good.”
Jerkens called Shaman Ghost, a classic winner in his native Canada at 3 and inching close to $4 million in earnings, a “throwback.”
“He’s always been a tough horse, he proved that when Brian (Lynch) had him as a 3-year-old,” Jerkens said. “They asked a lot of him to try and make that Queen’s Plate; he gave it to them, gave them what they needed. He’s tough; a throwback. The kind of handicap horses you used to have.”
Notes: The day’s other two stakes, both on the grass, went to Happy Mesa in the $100,000 Hilltop and Richard’s Boy in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint. … Friday’s crowd of 50,339 topped the previous Black-Eyed Susan Day mark of 47,956 set last year. Maryland Jockey Club officials also reported record total handle of $19,895 million for Friday’s card, up 6 percent from last year’s record of $18.661 million.