Top Billing Breezes Saturday for Sagamore Racing Pimlico Special (G3) Ahh Chocolate Puts in Final Work for Black-Eyed Susan (G2)
BALTIMORE â€“ Will Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr.â€™s Top Billing breezed Saturday at Belmont Park in preparation for his return to stakes company in the $300,000 Sagamore Racing Pimlico Special (G3) on Friday, May 15.
The 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special is one of eight stakes, four of them graded, on the Black-Eyed Susan Day program at Pimlico Race Course that also features the Ultimate Girls Day Out, dedicated to the spirit and strength of women.
A 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Curlin, Top Billing was clocked in 48.03 seconds for a half-mile over Belmontâ€™s main track, ranking fourth of 51 works at the distance.
â€œItâ€™s what I wanted to see. I wanted him to go between 48 and 49 [seconds] and he went in 48-and-change,â€ Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. â€œHe galloped out in a minute-and-change, just going along nice. It was as good as Iâ€™ve ever seen him work.â€
Saturdayâ€™s move was the third work for Top Billing since rallying from well back to finish within a nose of winner Noble Bird in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance April 8 at Keeneland. Noble Bird was narrowly beaten in the Alysheba (G3) at Churchill Downs in his subsequent start.
The Pimlico Special will be Top Billingâ€™s first try in a stakes since finishing third in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last February at Gulfstream Park. He was injured in training following the race and didnâ€™t return to competition until Feb. 22 when he was fourth in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream.
â€œIf he hadnâ€™t worked good we probably wouldnâ€™t be thinking about running, but off this, I donâ€™tâ€™ see any reason why not,â€ McGaughey said. â€œI thought he worked really well. Heâ€™s doing really well and heâ€™s coming off a really good race. Iâ€™m looking forward to running him.â€
Ahh Chocolate Puts in Final Work for Black-Eyed Susan (G2)
Poised to make her stakes debut in the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) May 15 at Pimlico, Stoneway Farmâ€™s Ahh Chocolate worked a half-mile in 49.20 seconds for trainer Neil Howard Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. was up for the work and will ride the 3-year-old Candy Ride filly in the 91st running of the 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
â€œIt was beautiful, just what Brian and I talked about,â€ Howard said. â€œWe talked about going 49-and-change, 50, and a strong gallop out. She galloped out in 1:01-and-two. Her training has been pretty steady since she ran at Keeneland, so she worked accordingly. She galloped out real strong, which is what she usually does. We were more than happy.â€
The Black-Eyed Susan will be just the third lifetime start for Ahh Chocolate, who broke her maiden Feb. 21 going six furlongs at Fair Grounds before stretching out to 1 1/16 miles with a professional 1 Â¾-length score April 8 at Keeneland.
â€œWeâ€™ve been encouraged with her all along, and her races have solidified how we felt,â€ Howard said. â€œWe didnâ€™t make the decision immediately on the Black-Eyed Susan because weâ€™re talking about making a big jump with a filly thatâ€™s only run twice. So, we waited. The way sheâ€™s trained helped us make our decision.â€
Based in Kentucky, the 66-year-old Howard has made the most of infrequent trips to Pimlico. He captured the 1990 Preakness Stakes (G1) with Summer Squall, his first starter in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, and came back to run second in 2003 with Midway Road.
â€œYou try to be judicious on what youâ€™re doing and not take the races lightly, especially a race of this magnitude,â€ he said. â€œIf there is any apprehension, if you will, itâ€™s the fact that sheâ€™s light on seasoning. Sheâ€™s got a real good demeanor. Thereâ€™s a lot of things that made me feel â€“ and the owners agreed â€“ that weâ€™re OK to do this.â€
Luminance Shines in Black-Eyed Susan Breeze
Before Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffertâ€™s Preakness-bound colts, Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah and third-place finisher Dortmund, galloped Saturday at Churchill Downs, he gave Luminance a five-furlong breeze in preparation for the Black-Eyed Susan.
The bay daughter of Tale of the Cat was clocked in 1:00 under exercise rider Chris Landeros, the fastest of 23 works at the distance.
â€œShe had a nice work in a minute and out in 1:13,â€ Baffertâ€™s assistant trainer Jim Barnes said.
Owned by Kaleem Shah, Luminance finished second in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) in her most recent start and Saturdayâ€™s work was her fourth at Churchill Downs since that race and third bullet performance.
Busy Morning for Preakness Weekend Undercard Stakes Contenders
Working in company over a fast track before the morning renovation break at Churchill were Conquest Stablesâ€™ Conquest BigLuck E and Gabe Grossberg and Sagamore Farmâ€™s Commute.
â€œThey went in :47 and 2 and galloped out in a minute,â€ Norm Casse, assistant to his father, trainer Mark Casse, said of the works that tied for the second-fastest of 55 Saturday morning. â€œConquest BigLuck E will go in the Sir Barton and Commute in the Chick Lang.â€
The $100,000 Sir Barton at 1 1/16 miles and the $100,000 Chick Lang at six furlongs will be run on the Preakness undercard. Both races are restricted to 3-year-olds.
D.P. Racingâ€™s Yahilwa, winner of the Sixty Sails (G3) at Hawthorne in her most recent start, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 at Churchill. Trained by Jim Cassidy, Yahilwa is nominated to the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3) to be run at 1 1/8 miles on the Black-Eyed Susan undercard.
Gearing up for a start in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, ageless multiple stakes-winning Maryland-bred star Benâ€™s Cat worked Saturday at Laurel Park.
â€œHe just went an easy, slow half-mile in 49,â€ legendary Mid-Atlantic horseman and Hall of Fame-elect trainer King Leatherbury said. â€œHeâ€™s right on schedule.â€
The 9-year-old Benâ€™s Cat was second to Bold Thunder in his 2015 debut, a $55,000 allowance run at the same five furlongs on turf as the McKay. Benâ€™s Cat has won the McKay three times, including the past two years.
War Correspondent worked five furlongs in 1:01.12 Saturday at Belmont Park in preparation for next Saturdayâ€™s Longines Dixie (G2). The Christophe Clement-trained colt turned in the fourth fastest of 25 clockings recorded at the distance.