Saturday’s 140th running of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (Grade I) – headlined by the Top 3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands: American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund – dominated conversations on the Churchill Downs backstretch Friday morning.
Several locally-based horsemen offered their opinions on the 1 3/16-mile middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown that will take place at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course:
Bret Calhoun: “I like him [American Pharoah], but I think the million dollar question is how he bounced out of it [the Kentucky Derby] and everything sounds like he bounced out if it well. I guess my concern is that the Derby was the first really hard race that he’s had, he’s dominated his other races. He had to get down and run that day, I know he had to be pretty tired. Other than that I think he’s definitely the best horse, it’s just a matter of how much the race took out of him.”
Wayne Catalano: “I’m going to be rooting for American Pharoah, obviously. It would be nice to see a Triple Crown winner, but I also like the horse that ran second [Firing Line], that horse looks pretty good.”
Carl Nafzger: “I think it’s going to be quite an interesting race since American Pharoah ended up in the one hole and Dortmund ended up in the two. That’s a complete different nature; they’ve got to get out of the gate because there are a lot of things that can happen in the one hole. If he can get out of the gate well, then I think he can win it. If the break doesn’t go well, then I think it will be a wide open race.”
Paul McGee: “I like American Pharoah, I think he’ll win it. I saw him coming out of the Derby really good and I think he can come back and beat him again. I’d like to give you a longshot, but he’ll be very tough to beat.”
William “Buff” Bradley: “I like Firing Line. He trained well here and he looks like he is the improving horse.”
Miguel Mena: “I like American Pharoah, I want to see a Triple Crown winner. He could look any better training, he was very smooth. I like Dortmund too, but I think American Pharoah is better than Dortmund. I hope that he gets a good trip, I know that the one hole is not too good, but we got to hope for a Triple Crown winner.”
Jimmy Baker: “[I like] American Phaorah. I was in the barn with him here for the last month, he’s a beautiful horse and a nice horse and I think racing needs to have a contender for the Triple Crown and he’s the only one that can do it. He has my vote.”
Ron Moquett: “I’m going to stick with the hometown boys; I like Norm Casse’s horse [Danzig Moon]. I’m a homer to a fault so if you’re from here, I want you to do well. I also like Mr.Z.”
During the last 35 years, there have been only 13 editions of the Preakness that were contested by the 1-2-3 finishers of the Kentucky Derby. In those 13 races, the Derby winner won again.
American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund will be the first Derby Top 3 to run in the Preakness since 2009, when Mine That Bird, Pioneerof the Nile (the sire of American Pharoah) and Musket Man fell victim to Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner and eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who is the last horse to win the Preakness after skipping the first jewel of the Triple Crown. In 1997, the Bob Baffert-trained Silver Charm won both the Derby and Preakness, while Captain Bodgit and Free House, finished second and third in the Derby before trading placings in the Preakness.\
The last time the top three Kentucky Derby finishers were also the first three past the finish in the Preakness was in 2007, when third-place Derby finisher Curlin captured the Preakness with Derby winner Street Sense a close runner-up and Hard Spun finishing third, as he had done in the Derby.
The Preakness goes as Race 13 on Pimlico’s 14-race card Saturday at approximately 6:18 p.m. (all times Eastern), about 28 minutes after Churchill Downs’ final race of the day. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. and the first of 11 live races is 12:45 p.m. The co-features are split divisions of the $65,000-added Keertana overnight stakes, which go as Races 8 (4:18 p.m.) and 11 (5:50 p.m.).
The Preakness, along with other select stakes from Pimlico, will be shown on Churchill Downs’ massive Big Board between live races. Highlighting special wagers with guaranteed pools offered by the Maryland Jockey Club are a $500,000 Pick 5 covering Races 9-13 and a $1.5 million Pick 4 on Races 10-13. Both are 50-cent minimums.
Churchill Downs has a special box-seat package for the Preakness Stakes simulcast. For $24, patrons can get a box seat in Section 314, an official program, one domestic beer or souvenir soda and a custom Kentucky Derby 141 T-Shirt. The package can be purchased online at ChurchillDowns.com by clicking the “Tickets” icon, by calling (502) 636-4450 or by visiting Churchill Downs’ on-track box office located near the track’s Gate 1 entrance between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
TWO DIVISONS OF KEERTANA STAKES HEADLINE SATURDAY CARD – Split divisions of the $65,000 Keertana Stakes, which is run at a distance of 1 3/8 miles over the Matt Winn Turf Course, will be the featured live racing events at Churchill Downs on Preakness Day.
The 1 3/8-mile event is named for Barbara Hunter’s homebred Keertana, who won four of her nine starts at Churchill Downs which included a nose triumph over males in the $111,200 Louisville Handicap (GIII) in 2011. The daughter of Johar also won the Regret Stakes (GIII) in 2009. She also ran third over the Matt Winn Turf Course to Shared Account and Midday in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI) in 2010.
The first division of the 1 3/8-mile race features Ramona Bass’s Courteasan, who is the 3-1 morning line favorite and is coming off of a fourth-place effort in the Bewitch Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland, where she was beaten 2 ½ lengths for trainer Christophe Clement. The four-year-old daughter of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense will be looking for her first victory since a triumph in the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park in November 2013. Courteasan, who will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, is one of only two horses in the 10-horse field with a stakes win on her resume. Stella Perdomo’s Meri Shika is the only other filly or mare in the race with a stakes win on their resume. The French-bred daughter of Sprit One, who is coming off of an allowance win at Keeneland, scored a stakes victory last August at Woodbine in the Flaming Page Stakes for trainer Roger Attfield. The five-year-old mare started off her career in her native France before moving across the pond to join Attfield’s stable at Woodbine. She has won two of her twelve starts in North America and will be ridden by jockey Luis Quinonez.
Of the ten fillies entered in the race, Patricia Mosley’s Bitty Kitty is the only horse with multiple wins on Churchill turf, the homebred daughter of Kitten’s Joy has won two of her three starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course. Last May she broke her maiden on her tenth attempt, which then followed with an allowance victory over the Churchill turf. The Brendan Walsh-trained mare is looking to end a steak of losses, all of which have come against graded stakes company and will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, who won this race in its inaugural running in 2013 aboard Treasured Up.
Curtis Green’s Maria Maria is coming off of a third-place effort in the Bewitch Stakes (GIII), where she ran ahead of the morning line favorite Courteasan. The homebred daughter of Curlin will be making her first start for trainer Steve Asmussen. She was previously trained by James DiVito.
All fillies and mares for both divisions will carry 121 pounds. The field for the first division of the Keertana Stakes, from the rail out (with jockey): Bitty Kitty (Shaun Bridgmohan), Meri Shaka (Fr) (Luis Quinonez) First Romance (Francisco Torres), Courteasan (Corey Lanerie), Ketel Twist (Albin Jiminez), Freethinker (Jon Court), VV Goodnight (Robby Albarado), Super Sky (Marcelino Pedroza), Maria Maria (Joe Rocco, Jr.) and Stellaris (James Graham).
The second-division of the Keertana Stakes is headlined by Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Always Kitten, who is looking to end a streak of seven straight losses. The homebred daughter of Kitten’s Joy is coming off of a seventh-place finish in the Very One Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park where she was beaten by graded stakes winner Irish Mission. Her last victory took place last March in the Jersey Lilly Stakes at Sam Houston Race Course. Miguel Mena has the mount for trainer Mike Maker.
Antionette Oppenheimer’s Eastern Belle will be making only her second start in the United States, the British-bred daughter of Champs Elysees made her U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion last time out in an allowance race at Keeneland, where she finished third beaten 4 ¾ lengths. The four-year-old filly has compiled an 8-3-0-1 record with her only finish off the board coming in the Nassau Stakes (Group 1) at Goodwood in her native Great Britain, which was her last start prior to coming to the U.S.
Trained by Clement, Walk Close looks to return to her winning ways after running fourth in her 2015 debut, which came in the Santa Barbara Handicap (GII) at Santa Anita. The homebred daughter of Tapit last found the winner’s circle in June of last year at Belmont Park in the Wild Applause Stakes. Walk Close will be ridden by jockey Corey Lanerie.
The field for the second division of the Keertana Stakes, from the rail out (with jockey): Walk Close (Corey Lanerie), Eastern Belle (GB) (Joe Rocco, Jr.), Galileo’s Moon (Ire) (Marcelino Pedroza), Always Kitten (Miguel Mena), Wicked Temper (Chris Landeros), Industrial Policy (Shaun Bridgmohan), Ceisteach (Ire) (Channing Hill), Nice Number (Jesus Castanon), Notte d’Oro (Brian Hernandez, Jr.), Antonia Autumn (James Graham), and Honey Lake (Jon Court).
WORK TAB- Robert Lutrell’s undefeated filly Promise Me Silver returned to the work tab Friday morning working a half-mile in :46.80 for trainer Bret Calhoun. This was the daughter of Silver City’s first work since her victory in the Eight Belles Stakes (GIII) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
Also on the Friday morning work tab was Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice, seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), who worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 for trainer Dale Romans.
Gunpowder Farm LLC’s Divisidero returned to the work tab as well, breezing a half-mile in :49 flat for trainer William “Buff” Bradley. This was the son of Kitten’s Joy’s first work since his victory in the American Turf Stakes (GII).
DOWN THE STRETCH – Nominations close Saturday for the $100,000 Aristides (GIII), the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for Saturday, May 30. … Family Adventure Day Presented by Kroger returns to Churchill Downs on Sunday for a Churchill Charlie birthday bash and bike helmet giveaway by Kosair Children’s Hospital. General admission to Churchill Downs is $3 but wristbands that include admission are required to access Family Adventure Day activities. They can be purchased online at ChurchillDowns.com for $8 until 10:45 a.m. Sunday or $10 at the gate on the day of the event. One dollar of every ticket purchased will benefit Kosair Children’s Hospital through the Children’s Hospital Foundation. …Gary Palmisano will join Darren Rogers as co-host for Saturday’s “Inside Churchill Downs” on ESPN 680/105.7 from 10-11 a.m. Palmisano is subbing for Churchill Downs’ John Asher, who’ll be in Bowling Green, Ky. to attend his daughter Erin’s graduation ceremony from the honors college at Western Kentucky University. She graduates with a degree in international business.