Cat Burglar Looking to Steal Pimlico Special
Vyjack Making Maryland Debut in Pimlico Special
Ahh Chocolate Brings Trainer Back To Scene Of His Top Victories
Perique Rounding Into Form For Allaire DuPont
Miss Ella Looks To Stay Unbeaten In Miss Preakness
BALTIMORE â€“ Narrowly beaten in his only two previous graded-stakes attempts, Michael Lund Petersenâ€™s Cat Burglar will get another chance in Fridayâ€™s $300,000 Sagamore Racing Pimlico Special (G3).
The 45th running of the Pimlico Special is one of seven stakes, four of them graded, on a spectacular 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program at Pimlico Race Course that includes the Ultimate Girls Day Out, with events dedicated to the spirit and strength of women.
A 5-year-old son of Unbridledâ€™s Song, Cat Burglar is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who on Saturday will saddle Kentucky Derby (G1) winner American Pharoah and third-place finisher Dortmund in his quest for a sixth Preakness Stakes (G1) victory.
In his lone start this year, Cat Burglar ran second as the favorite in a one-mile optional claiming allowance at Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard. It was his first race in 11 months, since finishing third by less than a length in the Brooklyn (G2) at Belmont Park.
Last May, Cat Burglar was third, beaten 1 Â½ lengths by Revolutionary, in the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special, which marked his stakes debut. He has finished worse than third only once in nine lifetime starts, with three wins.
â€œHe really needed his last out the other day. He got a little tired, so we figured weâ€™d run him here,â€ Baffert said. â€œHe ran well on this track here last year, so weâ€™re hoping maybe for a little spark. Itâ€™s a tough race, but he came out his last race well.â€
Cat Burglar is the third choice on the morning line at 5-1 in a field of nine older horses. He will break with jockey Victor Espinoza from post 8, one spot inside program favorite Commissioner.
â€œHeâ€™s a big, beautiful horse,â€ Baffert said. â€œHe had a setback and heâ€™d been off a long time, so hopefully this will get him going again. He was a little fresh the other day, but weâ€™re just trying to get him in there and maybe get a little piece of the action.â€
Vyjack Making Maryland Debut in Pimlico Special
Multiple graded-stakes winner Vyjack goes after his first victory outside of New York in the Pimlico Special. Trained by Rudy Rodriguez for David Wilkenfeldâ€™s Pick Six Racing, the 5-year-old gelding is 15-1 on the morning line.
â€œThe owners wanted to try to do it so we are going to try to do it,â€ Rodriguez said. â€œWeâ€™re going to run him and see where we stand. We also want to try him on the grass, but here weâ€™re going to see if we can get him to relax and finish.â€
Vyjack won the first four starts of his career, including the Jerome (G2) and Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, but has won only two of 14 races since. Third in the Wood Memorial (G1), he was 18th in the Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in 2013.
Last year, Vyjack won the one-mile Kelso Handicap (G2) and was third in the Forego (G1). After being cut back to a mile or less in six of seven races following the Triple Crown, he has made each of his last three starts at 1 1/8 miles.
â€œHeâ€™s a very talented horse and he is training very good, so we are looking forward to seeing if he can go the mile and three-sixteenths. Hopefully, it sets up good and he can have a good run,â€ Rodriguez said. â€œI think heâ€™s more like a mile horse, but the Met Mile is coming up very, very tough. This will give us a little more indication of where to go with him.â€
Vyjack became a millionaire with his fourth-place finish in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic (G2) April 18, having earned $1,011,500 in 18 lifetime starts.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t show any indication that he doesnâ€™t want to do it anymore. He looks very happy and heâ€™s training very, very good,â€ Rodriguez said. â€œMentally heâ€™s doing very, very good, and thatâ€™s why weâ€™re trying the race. The race is not easy, thatâ€™s for sure.â€
Ahh Chocolate Brings Trainer Back to Scene of His Top Victories
Trainer Neil Howard, who is preparing Stoneway Farm's Ahh Chocolate for the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) on Friday at Pimlico, is back at the scene of two of his most significant victories.
In 1990, Howard won the Preakness (G1) with Summer Squall, who had run second to Unbridled in the Kentucky Derby but outran him by 2 Â½ lengths at Pimlico. In 2003, Howard won the Pimlico Special with Mineshaft, who went on to be named Horse of the Year.
â€œSummer Squall, for as small as he was, they didn't come any more genuine,â€ Howard said.
Summer Squall was a precocious 2-year-old, winning all five of his starts, the first of which was a 4 Â½-furlong dash at Keeneland on April 20, 1989.
â€œHe was unique in that he broke his maiden going 4 Â½ furlongs and won a Classic and was second in the Derby,â€ Howard said. â€œYou don't see that that often.â€
A graded winner at 2, 3 and 4, Summer Squall won 13 of 20 career starts and earned $1.84 million.
Mineshaft, whose career started in England, where he won only one of eight starts, blossomed after joining Howard's U.S. stable in the fall of 2002. As a 4-year-old in 2003, he won seven of nine starts, all the victories coming in stakes, and earned $2.2 million.
His six graded wins included four in Grade 1 races, the first of which was the Pimlico Special. Mineshaft, coming off wins in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds and the Ben Ali at Keeneland, was the favorite in the Pimlico Special, which he won by 3 Â¾ lengths over Western Pride.
â€œIt was a very, very deep race competition-wise,â€ Howard said. â€œWe had a sloppy track. He loved the mud. He got carried a little wide on the turn. I felt it was a turning point for his career.
By design, Ahh Chocolate, a Candy Ride filly out of the Saint Liam mare Ahh, has been lightly raced. Undefeated in two starts, Ahh Chocolate will be making her stakes debut in the Black-Eyed Susan.
She rallied from off the pace to win a six-furlong race at Fair Grounds on Feb. 21 in her first start. Howard didn't run her again until April 8 at Keeneland. Stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth, Ahh Chocolate settled in mid-pack early before pulling away late to a Â¾ -length victory.
The timing of the Black-Eyed Susan made sense, said Howard, who is pleased with how Ahh Chocolate has prepared for the race.
â€œThe way she trains and the way she ran first time and the way she ran at Keeneland, she does put a lot into everything she does,â€ he said. â€œAnd it taught me something. It resonated more than it had in the past, that this filly, the way she puts out, it's going to be important that we just don't go â€˜Yee hah, let's run every two weeks.' We don't want to do that. If she turns out to be the filly that we all hope she is, it's going to come crunch time later in the year, if she keeps going forward. There's no reason to pound on her too much right now.â€
Mentally, Ahh Chocolate approaches her job well, Howard said.
â€œShe's got a great demeanor. She gets her game face on enough when she's training and all that. But she's really very straight-forward. She's one of the easiest good horses I've ever had to train besides Mineshaft.â€
Perique Rounding Into Form for Allaire DuPont
Laurel Park-based trainer Hamilton Smith had hoped to see Perique run in the 2014 Allaire DuPont Distaff Stakes (G3), but things happen. The Tapit filly suffered a soft tissue injury and wound up on the shelf, recovering on a South Carolina farm until January.
It was a disappointment for Smith and the fillyâ€™s owners, Jerry Romans & Zoom and Fish Stable Inc., as Perique would have come into that race off two wins and a third-place finish. But now, Perique seems to be regaining her form and will run in Fridayâ€™s DuPont on the Black-Eyed Susan Day undercard. It will be her career-first graded stakes.
â€œWe gave her longer rest than required to make sure she was totally healed,â€ Smith said. â€œAnd she has come back fine. Her last race we ran her with blinkers, something I wanted to do last year, but didnâ€™t get around to, and she ran well and won. Itâ€™s given us hope she can be a stakes caliber [horse] with her breeding.â€
Smith is also pleased to have a horse in a Preakness weekend stakes because he is an adopted Marylander who loves his state and its horse racing industry.
â€œThis is a big weekend for Maryland horsemen and I decided to give her a try in this,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve been in Maryland since the 1970s. I live here. I have my mares here. I train horses here. This is home. And it seems Maryland racing is getting back to where it used to be and Iâ€™m happy to support it.â€
He said heâ€™s not predicting anything for Perique, but he has hopes.
â€œItâ€™s her first time in a stakes,â€ Smith said. â€œBut there is a lot of speed in this race and thatâ€™s good for us. My horse likes to run off the pace and come from behind. We want a legitimate pace, not one horse getting loose on the front end. Thatâ€™s not good for us.â€
Miss Ella Looks to Stay Unbeaten in Miss Preakness
Ask Maryland-based trainer Graham Motion about Miss Ella and you can almost see the smile, even on the telephone.
â€œSheâ€™s lovely,â€ he said. â€œSheâ€™s done nothing wrong.â€
The 3-year-old Exchange Rate filly, who will run in the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) on the Black-Eyed Susan Day undercard, has placed every hoof perfectly. She has two lifetime starts in the last two months and won both; the first a maiden race at Gulfstream Park and the next, the seven-furlong Beaumont (G2) at Keeneland.
â€œShe has a great disposition and is [one of the] kindest and most straightforward horses Iâ€™ve trained,â€ Motion said. â€œShe goes very easy in the morning and she likes the dirt. Iâ€™m a little surprised by that.â€
Motion said he also would be surprised if she wasnâ€™t the favorite in the Miss Preakness because of her showing in the Beaumont.
â€œIt was a very competitive race, with a bunch of other good horses,â€ he said. â€œShe has and showed a lot of ability.â€