Faiza, unbeaten queen of the three-year-old filly division in Southern California, ventures east for Friday’s $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico. The 1 1/8-mile feature anchors a six-stakes, 14-race card on the eve of Saturday’s 148th Preakness (G1).
In typical years, Faiza would have been tested by fresh rivals in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). She was ineligible for that prize, however, due to trainer Bob Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. Two of her Pimlico opponents missed the Oaks for another reason – Hoosier Philly and Taxed couldn’t draw into the overflow field from the also-eligible list. Thus the Black-Eyed Susan has become the port of call for them, in addition to those who would have eyed Pimlico all along. A case in point of the latter category is Brad Cox’s up-and-coming Merlazza.
Faiza looked workmanlike in her Starlet (G1), Las Virgenes (G3), and Santa Ysabel (G3) victories, but she raised her game with a 6 1/2-length demolition job in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2). Regular rider Flavien Prat will guide the presumptive favorite, and 124-pound co-highweight, from post 9 in the 12-filly field.
“She’s very professional,” said Baffert, who is seeking a record-tying fourth Black-Eyed Susan trophy. “She’s got a really good mind. Every time Prat rides he says there is so much more in the tank because she doesn’t win by a lot. I think it’s going to be a step up. She will be running against more horses, so you never know. But she’s doing really well.
“She was really on when he asked her to go (in the Santa Anita Oaks). I trained her a little bit stiffer for that one because I figured it was going to be a tougher race. She looks great. She’s healthy. She’s really in the zone right now. I think she would have been tough in the (Kentucky) Oaks, but we’ll find out in the Black-Eyed Susan.”
Hoosier Philly went from leading Kentucky Oaks – and possible Kentucky Derby (G1) – contender to failing to amass enough points even to make the Oaks field. The Tom Amoss pupil was a sensation at Churchill Downs last fall, with dominant wins in the Rags to Riches S. and Golden Rod (G2), only to lose her form at Fair Grounds this term.
Although a flubbed start can explain her third in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), Hoosier Philly wilted to a distant fourth in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). She’s recently drilled a pair of five-furlong bullets at her Churchill base, and goes on a retrieval mission from post 3 with Edgar Morales.
“She trained very well all along,” Amoss said. “Having said that, it’s a bit of a puzzle that we’ve been trying to correct to get her to run back to her two-year-old races. It’s safe to say each time we’ve run her, I thought she would run her race. And we haven’t seen that to this point.
“Having said that, we like the way she’s doing and we’re looking forward to competing in what’s going to be a very tough race.”
Merlazza is a head away from being unbeaten, having just missed on her debut. The Don Alberto Stable homebred has since progressed with a hat trick, winning twice at Fair Grounds before rolling late in her stakes bow in the Valley of the Vapors S. at Oaklawn Park. Feargal Lynch picks up the mount.
Her Cox stablemate Comparative, a full sister to multiple Grade 3 scorer Shared Sense, steps up to stakes company for the first time. The Godolphin homebred finally broke her maiden in her sixth attempt, but then promptly cleared her entry-level allowance condition at Keeneland. Luis Saez maintains their partnership.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, as a four-time Black-Eyed Susan winner, is tied with fellow Hall of Famers “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and D. Wayne Lukas in the record book. Pletcher is double-handed in search of a record-breaking fifth win with Miracle and Frosty O Toole.
Miracle nearly upset the Rachel Alexandra on the front end at 13-1, until worn down by eventual Kentucky Oaks victress Pretty Mischievous. Next time in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), though, Miracle was a non-threatening fifth after getting bumped at the break. She’ll likely to try to show more speed here. Frosty O Toole, a trailing sixth in the Gazelle (G3) in her first start for the barn, likewise aims to rebound.
Three entrants competed on Oaklawn’s Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Taxed, first on the Oaks also-eligible list, was runner-up in the Martha Washington and Fantasy (G3). Also coming off the Fantasy are Mike Maker’s duo of Pate and Towhead, the respective sixth and seventh. Pate might have more upside, considering that she’d been a neck second in the Dixie Belle S. before stretching out in the Fantasy.
Gulfstream Park Oaks runner-up Sacred Wish has drawn the rail with John Velazquez. Balpool, who dominated the off-the-turf Memories of Silver S. around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile, takes a route test. Cats inthe Timber earned her spot by capturing the Weber City Miss S. at Laurel for Brittany Russell.