November 24, 2017

Whitmore, A. P. Indian square off in Maryland Sprint

Whitmore winning the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in April (c) Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography

While the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) is the main attraction on Saturday at Pimlico, the undercard features a stakes extravaganza that includes three dirt and four turf stakes.

Leading the dirt stakes is the Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3) going six furlongs. A competitive field of nine was entered, with Whitmore, A. P. Indian and Holy Boss topping the field.

Whitmore brings a four-race win streak into the Maryland Sprint, including a 3 3/4-length victory in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park last out on April 15. The Ron Moquett-trained four-year-old was a contender on the 2016 Triple Crown trail, placing in the Southwest Stakes (G3), Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1), but switched to sprinting after a 19th-place run in last year’s Kentucky Derby.

A. P. Indian racked up six straight scores last season, including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) and Forego Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. The seven-year-old gelding also finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), but was elevated to third via disqualification of a rival. Thus far this season the Arnaud Delacour charge has run second in the Commonwealth Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on April 8.

“I thought his last race was a very gutsy effort. It was a good performance and he came back very well,” Delacour said. “He’s been breezing every week and looks like he’s ready to go again. We’re excited to bring him back to the races.

“He bounces back from his races quickly. He’s an older horse and he’s a tough little horse, as well. It’s going to be six weeks between the two races and that’s kind of what we wanted. We don’t really want him to run too hard too early. Hopefully he can be at his prime in late spring and the summer. That’s what we’re aiming for and I think the timing of the Pimlico race makes sense.”

Holy Boss finished behind Whitmore in his last pair, the Count Fleet Sprint and Hot Springs Stakes, but before that wired the six-furlong Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds by 5 3/4 lengths. Conditioned by Steve Asmussen, the five-year-old chestnut spent most of 2016 knocking on the door of a major win, finishing second in the Vanderbilt and True North Stakes (G2). Holy Boss will attempt to run back to his 2015 campaign, when he captured the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) and Chick Lang Stakes while closing out the year with a fourth at double-digit odds in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Two races before the Maryland Sprint, a field of nine sophomores will sprint six furlongs in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes. Three Rules will try to get back to his winning ways while cutting back in distance off a fifth-placing in the April 1 Florida Derby (G1) going nine furlongs.

Prior to that, the Jose Pinchin pupil ran third in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and just missed when caught in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (G2). Last year, Three Rules easily swept the Florida Sire Stakes series by a combined 22 1/2 lengths.

“He ran good in the Fountain of Youth, and the Florida Derby was a great race,” Pinchin said. “The owners wanted to cut back with him, stop sending him going long and get him back to sprinting. I think he’ll handle it. It’s a cutback, but it’s a good cutback in his favor. I think he’s a better sprinter or miler than he is a route horse.

“He’s doing great. He’s had two real nice works since the race. He’ll probably be the favorite for the race. It should be the right spot for him.”

Recruiting Ready will do his best to deny Three Rules for trainer Horacio DePaz. The bay colt broke his maiden by 10 lengths last year over the track and brings a two-race winning skein into the Chick Lang, including a 5 1/4-length wire job in the Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 13. The other win came by a length at Laurel Park in early March.

“He’s definitely in good form right now. He had that confidence booster in the allowance race at Laurel and he was able to step it up again and go to Oaklawn on a track that he had never been on. Just being able to run consistent again and a very fast time as well was good,” DePaz said.

“The confidence booster really helped him out. He’s really happy with himself. I really think that race at Pimlico will be right up his alley. He’s been there before, he likes it, and he won there. It’s a track that suits his style of running, too.”

Also lining up in the Chick Lang are Proforma, unraced since taking the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds by three lengths on December 17; Bay Shore Stakes (G3) runner-up Even Thunder; Grade 3 scorer Theory, who faded to fourth in the Bay Shore last out on April 8; and Bobby Abu Dhabi, runner-up in the San Pedro Stakes most recently on April 16.

A couple races before the Preakness on Saturday, a field of 10 three-year-olds will take to the track seeking a first stakes triumph in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

Hedge Fund just missed adding a black-type victory to his resume when a head second in the Illinois Derby (G3) last out on April 22. Prior to that, the Todd Pletcher charge was third in the Sunland Derby (G3), and he’ll be cutting back in distance in this spot.

“He put in a good effort last time. It was a tough beat in the Illinois Derby so this hopefully will work out for him,” Pletcher said. “We got a beautiful trip and got everything we wanted. He just kind of missed the bob. Jose Valdivia rode him that day and he said he didn’t really think he saw the horse coming on his outside and just got nailed.”

Honor the Fleet will be making his stakes bow in this spot for trainer Louis Albertrani. The bay colt broke his maiden at Laurel on March 16 and captured an allowance/optional claimer by 7 1/2 lengths one month later, both at mile.

“He’s a big horse, and (owner) Frank (V. Demarco) and his wife have a lot of patience, so we just bided our time with him,” Albertrani said. “We just wanted to run him when he was ready. We’re looking for longevity with him.

“He will like stretching out and have no trouble with the distance. I think the horse will get a ground-saving trip from the rail, but I will leave race tactics up to the rider, who can take it from the break and see how the race unfolds.

“I couldn’t be happier with how this horse is doing,” he added. “He’s a very special horse. Frank Demarco is 86 years young and loves the game. He’s been in it for a long time, he and his wife, and they are just wonderful people. They are enjoying the run with this horse.”

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