Pre-race rains and a yielding turf course couldn’t even begin to spoil the half-dozen grass stakes races held on Preakness (G1) day at Pimlico. To the contrary, the testing conditions arguably made the races even more competitive than expected.
The action got underway with the 1 1/16-mile Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Invincible Gal was favored off a runner-up effort in the Sorority S. at Monmouth Park, but after pressing the pace and taking command in the homestretch, she was run down late by Fluffy Socks. A daughter of Slumber produced by the Kitten’s Joy mare Breakfast Time, Fluffy Socks clearly relished the yielding going and rallied strongly from sixth place to score by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:50.74. Chad Brown trains the Head of Plains Partners homebred, who was ridden to victory by Trevor McCarthy.
McCarthy nearly nabbed an early stakes double with Varenka, who produced a similarly furious rally down the homestretch of the 1 1/16-mile Gallorette Stakes (G3) for fillies and mares. But 11-10 favorite Juliet Foxtrot had too much left in the tank under Florent Geroux, hanging on resolutely after pressing the pace to win by a length in 1:49.24. Brad Cox conditions the classy Juddmonte Farms homebred, a daughter of Dansili who has placed three times at the Grade 1 level.
The 1-mile Hilltop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies was a tale of two trips. After rating in mid-pack through the first half of the race, Evil Lyn unleashed a powerful rally around the turn to take command. In contrast, favored Vigilantes Way failed to match Evil Lyn’s acceleration around the bend, and while she gained 4 1/2 lengths down the stretch, Evil Lyn held on to prevail by a half-length under Horacio Karamanos. Trained by Mike Maker on behalf of Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher, Evil Lyn—a daughter of Miss Relentless—crossed the wire in 1:42.25.
The outcome of the 1 1/16-mile Dinner Party Stakes (G2) was much more decisive. Factor This was favored at 4-5 off a runner-up effort in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) and left no doubt about his superiority, leading all the way with Florent Geroux aboard to score by 2 3/4 lengths over Somelikeithotbrown. The 5-year-old son of The Factor hit the wire in 1:46.17 to secure his fifth stakes win of the season, a testament to both his talent and the training skills of Brad Cox. Owned by Gaining Ground Racing, Factor This has earned more than $800,000 in 2020 alone.
The final time posted by Factor This was quite fast over the yielding going, especially when compared to the 1 1/16-mile Laurel Futurity. Half a dozen juveniles faced the starter, with the pace-tracking Mike Maker trainee Catman holding off a late charge from Wootton Asset to win by a nose. The son of Kitten’s Joy required 1:50.51 to complete the race, but showed impressive tenacity to hold firm under Daniel Centeno. Catman could have a bright future for the partnership of Paradise Farms Corp., David Staudacher, John Piehowicz, Angelo Carlesimo, and Maker.
Another photo finish unfolded in the one-mile James W. Murphy Stakes for 3-year-olds, and once again, a son of Kitten’s Joy prevailed. Five weeks ago, Don Juan Kitten gave up a large lead down the homestretch of the Saranac (G3) at Saratoga to finish second by a head against Bye Bye Melvin. The Murphy was nearly a repeat, as Don Juan Kitten—in front by three lengths at the eighth pole—had to brace for a late challenge from Bye Bye Melvin. But under urging from Gabriel Saez, Don Juan Kitten turned the tables and won the head bob by a nose for trainer Danny Gargan and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, stopping the clock in 1:42.24.
Were the winning times slowed by the yielding turf course? Certainly. But with a handful of photo finishes and a couple of standout performances to enjoy, no one can claim the quality of competition was affected.