GII Black-Eyed Susan S. - Both favorites here look somewhat vulnerable, especially
My knocks on Emollient are a little weaker, and I'll use her defensively in the pick four because she figures to be taken back off the pace this time. But she's been somewhat in and out in her career and her Ashland romp seemed to come out of nowhere. It was almost reminiscent of Dreaming of Julia's Gulfstream Park Oaks, where Emollient was 30 lengths back. Empire Makers absolutely love the Keeneland synthetic for whatever reason, so I wouldn't expect her to match that effort back on dirt. Also add to that the fact that Emollient was another who skipped the Oaks, and that fellow Mott/Juddmonte runner Close Hatches ran a total clunker in that spot, and I'd be less-than-enthused to take 9-5 on her.
There are two horses who interest me and who I'll feature in pick threes and fours. I think Maracuya (8-1) might be the most talented runner in the race, and she has everything going for her except for pace dynamics. She beat a couple of next-out winners in her sprint debut at Gulfstream in early March, and set a very hot pace (+12 first quarter on the Moss Pace Figure scale) but kept going in a one-mile optional claimer later in the month. The horse she beat took the Calder Oaks in the slop next out with a 90 Beyer. Maracuya’s pedigree is extremely interesting and Pimlico-specific. Her sire Big Brown took the Preakness here, obviously, and her half-sister Payton d'Oro (Medaglia d'Oro) annexed the 2009 running of this race (Maybe it's misguided or a bit too specific to expect track preferences to be passed on, but I've seen what I think is that phenomenon in the past. If genetics determine the physical characteristics that decide a horse's preference for dirt or turf, why can't they be relevant here too?) With all that being said, Maracuya has "wise guy horse" written all over her and I doubt she'll go off at her 8-1 morning line. I also have no idea if she can rate at nine furlongs, so while I'll use her prominently, I can't bet her to win.
I can, however, bet Marathon Lady (12-1) to win. Her maiden breaker in the Oaklawn slop three back was solid enough, and the runner-up is two-for-two since. Let go at 31-1 off that effort in the GIII Bourbonette Oaks over Turfway's Polytrack, the bay fell a nose short to Silsita in a spirited duel, earning a competitive 92 Beyer. There are two obvious reasons to question the quality of that race:
1. Silsita finished dead last in the Oaks. But she's clearly a turf/synthetic horse, so that doesn't mean much to me (Third-place finisher and GISW Pure Fun was also a non-factor in the Oaks, but her form is inconclusive).
2. The Beyer for that race seems a bit high compared to what Silsita and Marathon Lady have earned in other races. That's valid, but a closer look at the figure history of also-rans allays any concern that it's an inaccurate number.
Marathon Lady was third last time behind Oaks pace casualty Rose to Gold and Black-Eyed Susan participant Manuka Honey, but that was a complete merry-go-round affair, where the top three travelled that way all the way around. Marathon Lady didn't appear to love the sloppy conditions (despite having won on a similar strip two starts earlier) and was widest throughout, so I'm willing to give her a pass and be grateful for the additional value she'll offer thanks to that trip. Her sire Graeme Hall won the GII Arkansas Derby and GII Jim Dandy at 1 1/8 miles and she's from a South American female family, which usually means stoutness, so more distance should suit.
Race 2 - MSW, 1 1/16mT - Queen Jezebel (15-1) was a decent third in an Apr. 13 off-the-turfer here in her first start for Jose Corrales after a non-effort last summer at Del Mar for John Shirreffs. With her pedigree, I’m surprised she could even stand up on dirt--she’s by Motivator (GB) out of a Paris House (GB) mare who was MSW and GSP in England and GSP in Ireland, all in sprints. Queen Jezebel almost certainly has to be a better grass horse, and she doesn’t need to improve too much to match up very favorably with these. Adding to her appeal is Corrales’s exceptional stats second off the bench. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five seasons, he’s 10-for-21 (48%) with a $3.43 ROI second off the lay-off with maidens (29% with a $2.64 ROI second off the bench overall). I’d also be sure to use Jessica C (10-1). She was backed down to favoritism in a field of 12 going five panels here Apr. 14, but only got going late to finish a close sixth. Her half-brother Proceed Bee took the GIII Hawthorne Derby over nine furlongs of turf and her second dam annexed the Diana at the same trip, so more real estate on grass should be right up her alley.
Race 8 - Miss Preakness S. - This is another race that has a complete overload of early speed on paper, and it’s always tough determining who will find themselves back farther than usual just by default. Blueeyesintherein ran a decent race two weeks ago to be fifth in the GIII Eight Belles as be part of a quick pace, but she’s definitely shown the ability to come from off it and I’m not sure why she was so close last time. I’ll use her and think she’ll be somewhat tough, but the short turnaround may be ambitious (have a feeling that there’s a chance she scratches) and I’d like to find some better value in this full field. Lighthouse Bay (8-1) rates a longshot chance. She broke her maiden in front of a trio of next-out winners at Belmont in October before taking a roughly run stakes race at Laurel a month later (That video replay appears to be unavailable for some reason, and I hate flying blind, but the most important thing about her trip that day to me was that she wasn’t on the lead, and I can glean that from the chart). The chestnut resurfaced in a Gulfstream optional claimer Apr. 4, and set an opening split in :21.81 that was good for a 101 Moss Pace Figure, 15 points above par. She faded to fifth and earned a 73 Beyer, but can clearly much better with a less demanding trip. I’m guessing she’s capable of something in the high 80’s, which puts her right there if she bides her time early.
Race 9 - Jim McKay Turf Sprint - I’m writing this on Tuesday hoping that Bruce Brown opts to send Spring to the Sky (10-1) here and run Night Officer Thursday at Belmont. Both are cross-entered in the same spots, and while Spring to the Sky is a shorter price on the morning line at Belmont, from a tactical standpoint, he makes a lot more sense at Pimlico, while his late-running stablemate figures to get more pace at Belmont (Update: My hopes were answered). Spring to the Sky displayed some serious early speed in his first three races on dirt, but was subsequently stretched out and put on the lawn for three stakes tries. He didn’t embarrass himself, finishing third in Saratoga’s Duluth S. behind Summer Front. He also developed the ability to rate slightly, which came in handy when facing the equally fast Sum of the Parts in Belmont’s grassy six-furlong Groovy S. in September. Spring to the Sky tracked that runner--who had won his last three--and ran him down nicely in the stretch after it looked like Sum of the Parts wouldn’t be catchable. Sum of the Parts came back to take Keeneland’s GIII Phoenix S. before dueling his way to fourth in the GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Spring to the Sky was a distant last in the GIII Bold Ruler going seven furlongs on dirt in October, but that’s not his game and only serves to dirty his form. He has Bridgetown drawn to his outside, but I think he’s faster than that runner if Javier Castellano wants him to be, and since they opted for this spot, he’s definitely being sent.
Race 11 - The Very One S. - Sensible Lady isn’t really going to be 6-1, is she? The Tim Salzman trainee is two-for-two at this course and distance, thanks to a pair of victories over Jazzy Idea here last year, including an upset win at 24-1 in this event. Jazzy Idea would be nowhere close to 6-1 in this spot considering she beat Jim McKay Turf Sprint 9-5 morning-line shot Ben’s Cat (as a 3-year-old filly facing older males) in the Laurel Dash in October. Sensible Lady did finish behind three of these foes last time in Keeneland’s Giant’s Causeway S., but it seemed like she just sort of got tired late after looking like she might blow by everyone. She probably needed the race off a six-month break, and I’d expect a big step forward back on her home turf. It also can’t hurt that Sweet Cassiopeia, winner of her last five including the Giant’s Causeway, is drawn out in 13. There isn’t much room before the turn going five furlongs on the Pimlico turf course, so the favorite is likely going to have to overcome significant ground loss.
Race 12 - GIII Pimlico Special - So much for what looked like a comeback for this once-prestigious event--this field is pretty uninspiring. The top two morning line choices look very tough, but if somebody’s going to pull off the upset it’s probably Brimstone Island (12-1). He’s consistent, occasionally almost fast enough and figures to love this nine-furlong trip at which he’s never been sent being being by Tiznow out of a Broad Brush Mare.