The Saturday Special – May 18

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Pimlico Race Courses hosts Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, thousands of fans and of course Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan. Maryland Jockey Club Photo.

All roads point to Baltimore. Well, at least the long and winding road that leads to and through the American Triple Crown.

The Preakness Stakes goes for the 149th time Saturday at Old Hilltop. Maybe it doesn’t pack the punch of the Kentucky Derby, or lack the occasional sizzle of the Belmont Stakes if there’s a Triple Crown on the line, or if it’s in Saratoga, or at a new Belmont Park, but the middle jewel always seems to deliver. Think about all the winners, from the Triple Crown winners to some of the more recent heroes, from Bernardini to Rachel Alexandra, California Chrome to Point Given, Afleet Alex to Smarty Jones, Big Brown to I’ll Have Another. And so many more.

Our team is on site at Pimlico Race Course to take it in and report back, right here at Thisishorseracing.com and for Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. We’ve also put together another special edition of The Saturday Special, just like two weeks ago for the 150th Kentucky Derby. Next year marks 150 for the Preakness. We can’t wait.

Meanwhile, here’s The Saturday Special for May 18. Enjoy and good luck.

Revised morning line for Preakness 149
Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan has been installed as the 8-5 favorite on the revised morning line for Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes. Mystik Dan, who scored an 18-1 upset victory at Churchill Downs May 4, had been rated second at 5-2 behind 8-5 favorite Muth on the original morning line set by Maryland Jockey Club handicapper Brian Nadeau after entries were taken Monday for the $2 million middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Thursday’s revised morning line was made necessary following the Tuesday morning scratch of Bob Baffert-trained Muth, who was discovered to have an elevated temperature.

Here is the revised morning line and full field:

1: Mugatu, 20-1
2: Uncle Heavy, 20-1
3: Catching Freedom, 7-2
4: Muth, SCR
5: Mystik Dan, 8-5
6: Seize The Grey, 12-1
7: Just Steel, 12-1
8: Tuscan Gold, 9-2
9: Imagination, 3-1

License Plates of the Day
PARLAYZ, I-95 North edition. We didn’t catch the state. He was speeding past as the team headed from Baltimore back to Fair Hill.

LUVDTRAK, New York. Seen in Saratoga, where the action is picking up.

Names of The Day
Laddie Dance. Pimlico. Race 2. The Maryland-bred is named for one of the greats, longtime Fasig-Tipton auctioneer and the co-owner of champion Lemon Drop Kid. Owned, trained and bred by Robert Leaf Jr., the 3-year-old is by Golden Lad out of Enterprise Value (which fits the human Dance too). Milton J. “Laddie” Dance died in 2002.

Big Pond. Belmont at Aqueduct. Race 9. She’s by Mr. Big out of Beside Still Water.

Catching Freedom. Pimlico. Race 13. The Preakness runner is by Constitution out of Catch My Drift.

Worth Repeating
“He’s a pretty easy-peasy colt. He eats well. He’s a real quiet horse. I’ve used the terminology that he’s an old soul. Nothing much fazes him at all, which makes our job really easy.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek on Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Mystik Dan

“After winning the Derby, a couple of days later you’re like, ‘Man, if we can go up there and win the Preakness’… then you start looking at Triple Crown options. If you’re fortunate enough to win the Preakness, then you have to start thinking, ‘Hey, Mystik Dan, he could be champion 3-year-old,’ things like that. You start worrying about year-end honors for the horse.”
Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

“You want to go in there with a big chance of winning the Preakness. It’s the second leg of the Triple Crown, such a classic race. It’s another deal where everyone knows who the Preakness winner is.”
Hernandez on the challenge facing Mystik Dan

“Maybe we can paint the Starlight colors on top of the deal this year.”
Jack Wolf, head of Starlight Stable that co-owns Preakness contender Imagination, hoping for some blue and yellow paint on Pimlico’s infield cupola weathervane

“He’s going for the Triple Crown. We are there to spoil it, correct? It’s not a penalty kick. It’s going to be tough race. I know it’s a small field, but it’s a very select group.”
Jockey Frankie Dettori, who rides Imagination against Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan and others in his Pimlico debut Saturday in the Preakness

“It’s a game of experience. You still have to have that experience of looking at these horses and reading them and knowing what to do. I feel like I haven’t lost anything. I might be a little slower on the pony, but I’m still on that horse. I’m still doing the same thing, but I do it better than I used to.”  
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who takes two shots in bid for seventh Preakness win with Just Steel and Seize The Grey

“I was the local guy winning. It was such a great day.”
Ross Pearce, former trainer and current Maryland steward, looking back at Costly Shoes’ victory in the 1988 Black-Eyed Susan

“I’m doing a rain dance all this week. … I’m not saying he has to take a racetrack with him, but we know he gets over it well.” 
Former jockey Robby Albarado, Mystik Dan’s exercise rider for trainer Kenny McPeek

“I’ve never won the Kentucky Derby. I’ve been on some (good) Derby horses, too. So, I guess I’m living vicariously through Mystik Dan right now. I never stepped into the Derby winner’s circle until this year. I soaked it all in. I felt I was a big part of that. I didn’t need to be in the forefront, but it felt good being there. Horses change people’s lives, man. And he changed a lot of people’s lives the first Saturday in May.”
Albarado on the Derby experience

“We still have Imagination, and we aren’t giving up on him.”
Eight-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert, after Wednesday’s scratch of morning-line favorite Muth

“Obviously, I feel bad for Bob. The Triple Crown series has been awfully good to him, but then lately he’s had some bad luck.”
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas on Baffert losing Muth to a fever this week

“What a fast horse. Look at how far he galloped out in front of the field. He was 10 lengths in front. He’s fast and showed a new element being able to track just off the pace.”
Trainer Greg Foley on impressive Churchill allowance winner Champlin

“He was a game-changer for my career. He was such a fun horse to have in the barn that raced from a 2-year-old all the way to 6. Growing up in New York, I always thought the Belmont Stakes was the race to win until I ran Mahogany Hall in the Derby. Then I quickly realized the Derby is the race. He changed the course of my career for the better and ran against some very talented horses throughout his career. Maybe one day we’ll get another one like him in the barn.”
Trainer Jimmy Baker on 1996 Whitney Handicap winner Mahogany Hall

By the Numbers
1: Automatic bid to the prestigious Group 1 Lexus Melbourne Cup Nov. 5 at Flemington racecourse in Australia to the winner of the Grade 2, $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup Stakes June 6 at Saratoga Race Course, through an arrangement with the Victoria Racing Club and New York Racing Association.

2: Two-day Pick 5 bets comprised of selected races on Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day and Saturday’s Preakness Day card at Pimlico Race Course. The wagers started Friday and feature a 12 percent takeout and 50-cent minimum.

10: Wins in 12 starts for Kazakhstan and Russian star Kabirkhan, who arrived at Churchill Downs this spring and will compete in North America this summer and fall for trainer Brad Cox.

48: Seconds for half-mile breeze turned in by Thorpedo Anna Thursday at Churchill Downs, the filly’s first work since her win in the Kentucky Oaks. She’s headed to the Grade 1 Acorn June 7 at Saratoga Race Course.

999: Wins for trainer John McCaslin through May 16. Based at Parx Racing, McCaslin has one runner entered there for May 21.

28.4 million: Dollars in total handle bet on Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day card at Pimlico Race Course, a record that topped last year’s record of $28.2 million

NYRA launches charitable foundation, announces Belmont Eve event
The New York Racing Association announced the creation of the NYRA Foundation, a philanthropic effort designed to raise funding and awareness for the work of non-profits, service providers, Thoroughbred aftercare groups and charitable organizations connected to horse racing.

Throughout its history, NYRA has dedicated significant resources and made direct investments to support the communities surrounding Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. In addition, NYRA provides sustaining financial contributions to deepen the impact of the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), the Racetrack Chaplaincy of New York and the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA), the primary non-profits working in support of New York’s backstretch community.

The NYRA Foundation establishes a pathway for businesses, individuals and organizations to contribute to a variety of worthy endeavors connected to thoroughbred racing in New York State and across the country.

To highlight the expansion of NYRA’s charitable efforts, the NYRA Foundation will host a gala event Friday, June 7 in Saratoga Springs. Co-hosted by NYRA Chairman Marc Holliday, all proceeds from the inaugural Belmont Ball will benefit a selection of non-profit organizations active in backstretch services, Thoroughbred aftercare and more.

The NYRA Foundation is currently offering Belmont Ball sponsorship opportunities for individuals and businesses interested in supporting the mission. For additional information on available sponsorship opportunities, or to donate to the NYRA Foundation, visit https://nyraf.org/.

Jockey of the Week
Veteran rider Jon Court’s decision to retire the day after the Kentucky Derby did not go unnoticed in the industry and his 40-year plus career was appreciated by the panel of racing experts who voted Court

Jockey of the Week May 6-12.

The weekly honor recognizes jockeys for riding accomplishments and who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization which represents more than 1050 active, retired and permanently disabled jockeys in the United States.

As with many who contemplate a career as a jockey, it is the dream of riding in the Kentucky Derby and the love of the Thoroughbred that inspires them and such was the case with Court.

A native of Gainesville, Florida, Court began his career riding in Colorado in 1980 and recorded his first victory June 7, 1980 at Centennial Racetrack in Colorado. He later rode in Louisiana for a number of years and owns numerous riding titles at Ellis Park, Hoosier and topped the standings at Oaklawn in 2000. He moved his tack to California in 2004 where he won the Grade 1 Citation Handicap aboard Leroidesanimaux for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. He returned to the Midwest in 2009.

Court’s biggest victories over his impressive career included consecutive runnings of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in 2010 with Line Of David and in 2011 with Archarcharch. He has won Grade 1 races with Downthedustyroad, Lang Field and Pure as Gold and is the seventh-winningest rider in Oaklawn’s history with 730 wins and 38 stakes.

Court has ridden in the Kentucky Derby four times and was the oldest jockey at the age of 58 to ride in 2019 guiding Long Range Toddy to 16th place. His best finish was with Will Take Charge (eighth) in 2013. He was 61 when he became the oldest rider in American Thoroughbred history to win a $1 million race when Last Samurai won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in 2022. Court recorded his 4,000th  win at Turfway Park December 3, 2016.

Court’s accolades include the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2007. The award honors riders whose career and personal character earn esteem for the recipient and the sport of Thoroughbred racing and is particularly meaningful as it is decided by a nationwide vote of jockeys. Court won the 2015 Mike Venezia Memorial Award which is presented annually by the New York Racing Association to a rider who displays extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.

After 4,263 victories, Court is retiring on his own terms.

“It’s something I’ve been planning for a while, so I’m in a position to go ahead and execute my plan,” he said. “One thing is I was drawn here by the love of the Thoroughbred and that’s going to be the toughest thing that pulls on me.”

Other nominees for Jockey of the Week included Emisael Jaramillo with two stakes wins at Gulfstream Park, Flavien Prat who won two graded stakes at Belmont at the Big A, Joel Rosario with a graded stakes win at Belmont at the Big A and John Velazquez who won the Gr. II Peter Pan at Belmont at the Big A.

As for the races…
Newbury. Race 1. 8:50 a.m.
The Group 3 Sky Sports Racing Aston Park Stakes entices Desert Hero, Middle Earth, Salt Bay and six others for its 1 1/2-mile voyage.

Auteuil. Race 4. 9:15. American Grand National winner Hewick travels to France for the Grade 1 Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil. He’s not alone as Irish raiders Irish Point, Home By The Lee and others aim at the 3 1/8-mile stakes.

Newbury. Race 3. 10:00. We’ll take Into Battle to upset Chantilly and 12 others in the London Gold Cup Handicap.

Pimlico. Race 1. 10:30. The Preakness card starts now.

Newbury. Race 4. 10:35. Strong card at Newbury is anchored by the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes. Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Big Rock returns with a new trainer. Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Inspiral returns with a new jockey.

Newbury. Race 6. 11:45. Can Metal Merchant make your Saturday again? He’s half the price but think about all the money in the bank from his win back in April.

Pimlico. Race 4. 12:16 p.m. The Skipat kicks off the stakes menu.

Pimlico. Race 6. 1:28. Frost Free ventures from Oaklawn Park for the Chick Lang.

Pimlico. Race 7. 2:08. Brian Hernandez tries to continue a good weekend (two weeks) with Blissful in the Gallorette for Cherie DeVaux. She tries the same thing after a big Friday.

Pimlico. Race 8. 2:48. Coastal Mission flies the flag for West Virginia in the Maryland Sprint.

Gulfstream Park. Race 5. 3:12. We’ll root for Bethany Baumgardner to win her first stakes with Ocean Club in the Monroe.

Pimlico. Race 9. 3:30. Three-year-olds on the turf in the Jimmy Murphy.

Pimlico. Race 10. 4:10. Blinkers go on Corporate Power in the Sir Barton.

Belmont at the Big A. Race 9. 4:36. Big Pond makes her first start for Bill Mott in the Vagrancy. Beguine travels from Delaware Park for Ned Allard. Leave No Trace tries to win her first stakes since the Grade 1 Spinaway in 2022.

Pimlico. Race 11. 4:53. The little big brother. Witty looks strong in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint.

Woodbine. Race 9. 5:32. Three-year-old fillies clash in the Ruling Angel Stakes. Sabatini broke her maiden in a similar spot in the Star Shoot Stakes April 27.

Pimlico. Race 12. 5:52. Full field of tough turf horses rumble in the Dinner Party. Yeah, we’re rooting for Eons.

Pimlico. Race 13. 7:01. The Preakness.

Gulfstream Park. Race 11. 6:18. Royal Ascot winner Crimson Advocate returns in search of a second booking to Royal Ascot. The 3-year-old filly takes on eight rivals in the Roar Stakes.

Churchill Downs. Race 4. 7:26. Disarm returns for his first start since finishing second in the Travers. The son of Gun Runner is 4-5 for Keith and Steve Asmussen against second-level allowance foes.

Santa Anita. Race 7. 7:39. Down the hill in the Mizdirection.

Golden Gate Fields. Race 7. 8:54. A three-turn turf race has got to make the Saturday Special. We’ll take Big Spin for the win.

Churchill Downs. Race 7. 9:05. Hey, what could be better than a doubleheader? Churchill Downs offers night racing. The Louisville starts off the stakes menu. Bold Menu is even money for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby.