December 17, 2018

Shaman Ghost faces nine in Pimlico Special

Owner Frank Stronach guides his Shaman Ghost and jockey Javier Castellano into the winner's circle after victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Arrogate’s world traveling and light schedule leaves plenty of opportunities for the nation’s other leading older horses, like Shaman Ghost, to take advantage of this season. A case in point is Friday’s $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3), in which Shaman Ghost will be a solid favorite to beat nine rivals over 1 3/16 miles.

Winner of the Queen’s Plate at three and the Woodward (G1) at four last year, Shaman Ghost kicked off this season with a strong second to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). Bypassing a rematch with that one in the Dubai World Cup (G1), Shaman Ghost instead shipped west for the Santa Anita H. (G1), which he gamely captured by three parts of a length over Midnight Storm.

“He ran good, and I didn’t really think he cared for it, either,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said of the Santa Anita surface. “The track was kind of hard for him and I don’t think he was crazy about the track. It just shows his gameness.”

Like Santa Anita, Pimlico is operated by the Stronach Group, whose founder, Frank Stronach, owns Shaman Ghost.

Jerkens also saddles Dolphus, a half-brother to 2009 Preakness (G1)-winning filly Rachel Alexandra. The son of Lookin at Lucky has been unplaced in four previous stakes appearances, but enters off a swift, wire-to-wire allowance win at Aqueduct.

“He ran very well in the Stymie, then he won the three-other-than going a mile out of the chute,” Jerkens said. “We didn’t know where else to run him. Without any conditions it’s kind of tough to find a spot after that, so we thought he might lay up close and maybe get brave on the lead and get something.”

Noble Bird was electric winning the 2016 Pimlico Special by more than 11 lengths, but the Mark Casse trainee has struggled this term finishing out of the money in all three appearances. In better form at the moment is Watershed, who defeated Grade 3 winner Eagle by 2 3/4 lengths in the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland last month and is by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini.

Besides Noble Bird, multiple stakes winner Bodhisattva is the only prior winner over the Pimlico strip. That two-time surface winner, recent allowance winners Fellowship and Conquest Windycity, and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Native Changer are also in the mix for a share or more.

The six-furlong, $150,000 Miss Preakness (G3) has attracted a highly competitive field of three-year-old fillies. Trainer Todd Pletcher has three in the lineup, including the speedy Bode’s Dream and Nonna Bella, as well as his closing Spinaway (G1) dead heat winner Pretty City Dancer, who has been unplaced in her last three outings.

Astrollinthepark and Crabcakes enter off a one-two finish in a stakes at Mahoning Valley in Ohio, while Our Majesty‘s only blemish in three outings was a demotion from first to fourth in the $150,000 Purple Martin at Oaklawn in March. R Angel Katelyn is a four-time stakes winner for Gerald Bennett, while Vertical Oak enters off a dominating win in the $67,000 Goldfinch at Prairie Meadows after being interfered with by Our Majesty in the Purple Martin.

Adding intrigue are Too Much Tip, a star in Puerto Rico and now conditioned by Wesley Ward, and the up-and-coming Deer Valley for trainer Tom Proctor.

The $150,000 Allaire duPont Distaff (G3) is the first of four graded stakes on the Black-Eyed Susan Day card. Terra Promessa, a multiple Grade 3 winner at Oaklawn and recent runner-up to Stellar Wind in the Apple Blossom H. (G1), might be a slight favorite over Mo’ Green and Carrumba, the last two winners of the Top Flight (G3) at Aqueduct. The latter adds blinkers after two disappointing sprint efforts to start the year.

The venerable Ben’s Cat, 11, will attempt to win the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint for a fifth consecutive year and sixth time overall. Winless in six outings since last year’s McKay, the King Leatherbury charge finished fifth, beaten less than a length by Made Bail, in an April 16 allowance prep at Laurel.

“He came out of the last race good,” Leatherbury said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the race because the one post hurt us. We couldn’t get out to make a move. He had to sit there so long and were able to make a move at the end, but it was too late.”

On the comeback trail is Amelia’s Wild Ride, third to Ben’s Cat in this race back in 2015 and subsequently the winner of that year’s Woodford (G3) at Keeneland. Hero of the Sunshine Millions Turf Sprint in early 2016, he’s been out of action the past 14 months.

Other notables in the lineup are the capable California shipper Richard’s Boy, a credible fifth in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in Dubai last time, and Pay Any Price, who blasted five furlongs in :53 3/5 winning the $75,000 Silks Run at Gulfstream on March 11.

“I thought it was a pretty good race that he ran [in the Silks Run],” trainer Ralph Ziadie said. “I didn’t expect him to set the track record but I wasn’t surprised with the way he ran.”

Victory to Victory, who broke her maiden in the Natalma (G1) at Woodbine last fall, enters the $100,000 Hilltop, a one-mile turf stakes for three-year-old fillies, off a two-length allowance score last month at Keeneland. for Mark Casse.

“We were really impressed with her allowance race at Keeneland,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “We knew she’d run well, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. And she’s trained great since then. We’re really excited to get her back in stakes company and think she’s really primed to have a big year.”

Also in the lineup is stakes winner Compelled, who endured narrow defeats in the Sweetest Chant (G3) and Florida Oaks (G3); Sweeping Paddy, third in the Edgwood (G3) at Churchill two weeks ago, and stakes winner Happy Mesa.

The final stakes on the 14-race program is the $100,000 Skipat for fillies and mares at six furlongs. Once-beaten Clipthecouponannie will face stakes veterans Chanteline, Absatootly, Lovable Lady, Sweet On Smokey, Disco Chick, Pleasant Tales and Stormy Sky.