Preakness Saturday may be feeling a little light when it comes to its feature race (how many Derby runners are skipping it now?), but the undercard race for older horses at the same distance is as steep in talent as it is in history. The Pimlico Special features the return of 6 stakes winners, a Kentucky Derby runner-up, and a whole lot of handicapping value. It returns for the first time since 2008 and has been won by multiple champions such as Skip Away, Invasor [ARG], Cigar, Real Quiet, and of course, Seabiscuit.
Six graded stakes winners of varying abilities will be stepping it up to see who can last the full 1 3/16 mile distance of the Special.
$300,000 Pimlico Special (III) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 3/16 miles on dirt at Pimlico Racecourse. Post Time: Saturday, May 18 at 5:51pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Toby’s Corner - Eddie Castro, 118 lbs, Graham Motion - Last year’s Wood Memorial (I) winner, the Bellamy Road colt has had a rocky return to the races after an injury ended his Triple Crown hopes. He was 3rd after a rough trip to Yawanna Twist in the General George (III) carrying 4 additional pounds to the winner, but had a good rebound in the New Orleans (II) behind romping winner Nates Mineshaft and Mission Impazible. He lost that start by nearly 11 lengths, but his works are starting to look up if he can avoid getting pinched at the start. Has never finished off the board.
2) Endorsement - Martin Garcia, 124 lbs, Eoin Harty - No Lasix and fresh off a huge comeback as the winner in the Texas Mile (III), the Distorted Humor son has been a hardy competitor winning 4 races and placing in 3 out of 8 total career starts at various distances and kinds of trips and gets some star power with Garcia in the irons. This will be a big step up class-wise for Endorsement, who has yet to really tangle with graded winners, but he should be improving just enough to want to spring to the front.
3) Cease - Rosie Napravnik, 124 lbs, Albert Stall - Loved this War Chant son last year leading up to the Hawthorne (III), and he’s been strong at those distance races with a 5th in this past BC Marathon (II) and a flawless win in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Park over 1 1/8 miles. Not a fast mover and will need a fast pace to get going.
4) Hymn Book - John Velazquez, 124 lbs, Claude McGaughey - The rallying cry of this Arch gelding rang true when he won the Donn Handicap (I), but did not last as he flattened out to finish 4th in the Oaklawn Handicap (II). Strong, speedy, short works have him ready to fire when needed, and his running style suits this race nicely.
5) Cherokee Artist - Victor Santiago, 118 lbs, John Robb - The most experienced horse in the field with 34 starts featuring 8 wins, he has won twice this year already over 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park by 4 lengths and another at Pimlico by 8. He lost the Harrison Memorial Stakes by a short head dueling Eighttofasttocatch, presenting some real class issues.
6) Nehro - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - If I made a list of my favorites still running, this Mineshaft colt would be somewhere near the top. A handy winner of his comeback in an allowance, he puttered out in the Oaklawn Handicap (II), going wide early on to finish 6th. His works have remained consistent. A classy horse gets a weight break and a chance to prove himself trying yet again to win his first stakes. It may be just a G3, but Nehro has a lot to get done on the way up.
7) Mission Impazible - Javier Castellano, 118 lbs, Todd Pletcher - Awesome all the way, the gutsy Unbridled’s Song gelding has had two near-misses this year against some of the best: Hymn Book in the Donn Handicap (II) and Nates Mineshaft in the New Orleans Handicap (II) and was second last year to the record-cracking Wise Dan in the Clark (I). He’s started 17 times, but has won only 3 times— thus, making the case for board-hitting. His form so far this year has been excellent, however, with a recent 5-furlong bullet in :59 1/2. Look out!
8) Yawanna Twist - Mike Luzzi, 118 lbs, John Parisella - The Yonaguska son has been having a sharp 2012, winning an allowance by almost 7 lengths and following it up with a strong win in the General George (III). He faded a bit in his last race in the Oaklawn Handicap (II), where he was a pace-pusher who held on for third. With a bullet :59 1/5 work and strong form, he’s definitely worth a look despite having just won his first graded win in February.
9) Alternation - Luis Quinonez, 124 lbs, Donnie Von Hemel - Unstoppable this year, the Distorted Humor colt has been 3-for-3 in stakes races including the Oaklawn Handicap (II) over several members in this field. He would have few excuses here to do poorly with his running style and post position right next to the speedy Yawanna Twist, and has had a really nice blast over Pimlico in :48 3/5.
10) Eighttofasttocatch - Sheldon Russell, 124 lbs, Timothy Keefe - Hitting and missing and losing Rosie Napravnik to Cease, the Not for Love gelding sports an incredible 33 starts with 10 wins. He won his last start by a head over Cherokee Artist in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial, which may have been the kiss of death with the extra pounds as well as the far outside post. Bound to be the pacemaker who will try to outlast the field.
Top Picks in Order:
1) Mission Impazible
3) Hymn Book
4) Toby’s Corner
Value Pick(s): Toby’s Corner, Yawanna Twist