Tesio may be weekend’s more ideal classic prep

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The Derby Trial Stakes-with its Derby points and late-evening post as part of the opening Downs After Dark card at Churchill Downs-gets most of the attention this weekend, but five hours earlier and roughly 600 miles away in Baltimore is perhaps the more realistic classic prep of the weekend.

The Federico Tesio Stakes highlights the Saturday program at Pimlico Race Course and serves as an ideal steppingstone toward the Preakness Stakes in three weeks time. Both races followed suit with what’s been seen all winter and spring in the classics preps-large and competitive fields.

The Tesio, which isn’t graded and is worth $75,000 less than the $175,000 Derby Trial, seemed to draw a field of sophomores on the way up the ladder compared to its prep counterpart in Louisville. The Trial certainly features its share of possible late-bloomer-types in Zee Bros, Ruble and Officer Alex, but also includes its share of colts coming off disappointments in their most recent stakes starts.

Kevin Plank, owner of Tesio entrant Heat Press, said during an open house event this week at his Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland, indicated he’d be encouraged to run the Malibu Moon colt back in the May 18 Preakness with a good effort Saturday.

Trainer Graham Motion, a bit miffed when his Forecon was taken down in the fourth race Friday at Keeneland, wasn’t bothered by his owner’s comments.

“Look, anyone that runs well in this race will be inclined to look at the Preakness,” Motion said Friday afternoon. “It’s a very competitive race. I think half the horses in there have to have in the back of their mind that they’ll take a look after this race.”

Heat Press would not be a stretch by any means to get it done in the Tesio and go on to the Preakness. He was a powerful winner in his maiden win in early December at Laurel Park and comes off a good win going a mile last out at Parx Racing. In between those races was a third in a three-horse race in late January at Laurel, a race Motion tosses out.

“On the lead in a three-horse field?” he said. “That was basically a fiasco in every way. One of your biggest fears in a three-horse field is that it won’t be a truly run race. And it wasn’t.”

“He’s definitely a horse I’ve been high on, but he’s been a little bit up and down in his career. I think sometimes with excuses. He’s certainly coming off a good race, which is an encouraging race.”

The two that finished ahead of Heat Press in the three-horse race-Dynamic Strike and Hanky Doodle-are back in the Tesio. They’ve both run since, Dynamic Strike winning the Miracle Wood and finishing fifth in the Private Terms for Dickie Small; Hanky Doodle winning one of four starts in an allowance-optional race Feb. 17 for Gary Capuano.

David Carroll ships Abstraction in from Churchill, opting for the two-turn 1 1/16-mile Tesio over the one-turn one-mile Trial.

Not nominated to the Triple Crown, Abstraction was one of the more impressive maiden winners at Fair Grounds this year. The Pulpit colt destroyed a small field in his March 13 victory, turning heads and getting some buzz, but Carroll is taking the relatively conservative route.

Rarely is the word conservative used with D. Wayne Lukas in stakes races in recent years and he’s back with two colts in the Derby Trial in Titletown Five and Tour Guide.

Lukas, a three-time winner of the Trial and four-time winner of the Derby, makes no bones about why he’s running Titletown Five in this spot. He plans to wheel the Tiznow colt back in a week if he wins, gets the 20 points, and is able to secure a spot in the Derby field.

Lukas is actually one of four trainers with entries in the Trial to win the Derby, along with Lynn Whiting (Officer Alex), Bob Baffert (Zee Bros), and Todd Pletcher (Forty Tales and Capo Bastone).

Capo Bastone was sort of the “now” horse after an allowance-optional win back in mid-February at Gulfstream before a ninth-place finish in the Spiral Stakes March 23 at Turfway Park. The Street Boss colt stumbled at the start in the Spiral, essentially losing all chance and forced to deal with an overabundance of kickback that day.

Post time for the Derby Trial is set for 10:42 p.m. Saturday.

The weekend stakes also include the Grade 3 Westchester, feature of the first Saturday of the Belmont Park spring-summer meet. Eight are entered in the one-mile event, led by Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out and unbeaten Cross Traffic. The fourth race on Belmont’s program is the Tweedside Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the grass. Five of the six entered come in off a win, including Motion’s Girl of The Rain, who makes her first start in the U.S. and first with Lasix.

To read more about Kevin Plank’s plans for Heat Press and racing in Maryland, click here.

To see Abstraction’s big maiden score at Fair Grounds, click here.