Saturday's Preakness undercard is laden with stakes, but none of them (up to and including the feature) drew as contentious a field as the Grade II, $300,000 Dixie Stakes. The race drew an overflow field of fourteen middle-distance grass runners, plus two on the also-eligible list.
This year marks the 114th running of the Dixie Stakes. The race was originally named the Dinner Party Stakes, in homage to an 1868 dinner party in Saratoga which Maryland governor Oden Bowie attended. The guests proposed a race in the fall of 1870, and Bowie pledged to build a new racetrack to host that race. That racetrack was Pimlico; the first Dinner Party Stakes occurred on the day of its opening. A horse named Preakness won that 1870 running of the Dinner Party; Preakness, of course, lent his name to the day's feature race. Renamed the Reunion Stakes between 1872 and 1888, it has been called "Dixie" since 1902. A race called the Dixie Stakes at Benning in Washington, DC is considered part of this race's history according to the American Racing Manual; that race was last run in 1904, and it reappeared at Pimlico in 1924. Initially run at two miles, the race has only been run at its current 1 1/16 mile distance since last year. Two Triple Crown winners rank among winners of the Dixie: Assault (1947) and Whirlaway (1942).
Of course, the Dixie Stakes is only part of this weekend's racing action at Pimlico. For Friday, Paul Mazur previews the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII), and both of us provide our selections for the stakes on that card. For Saturday, in addition to my preview of the Dixie Stakes and our selections here, we also took a horse-by-horse look at the Preakness Stakes (GI). Note that our selections are done in conjunction with Hello Race Fans! as both Paul and Nicolle are on a panel to provide win-only selections for that site as well.
This race is scheduled for Saturday, May 16. Selections are made turf-only. Updated Saturday, May 16 to account for the scratch of War Correspondent, and the entry of Chamois.
Pimlico Race 12: Longines Dixie Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on the turf, post time 5:25pm EDT
One thing is clear: 2013 Dixie Stakes winner SKYRING will send, and try to wire it like he did two years ago. No one else has the early speed to go with him. However, SKYRING's form recently has been suspect at best; he will not join Sarazen as the only two-time winner of this race. Eventually this field will swallow him up. With a field this large, however, questions abound as to who will do so best. When will the field encroach? Who moves first? Who will have space to move? How soft will the turf be, given the rain in the forecast?
LONG ON VALUE drew the 12 hole, but he showed in the Twilight Derby (GII) and the Canadian Turf (GIII) that he runs well from the outside. Though he did not run his best race in the Makers 46 (GI) last out over soft going, the pace looks like a bigger factor than the surface in that one. In that race, he drew inside, and set the early fractions. LONG ON VALUE is not a speed horse. He does his better work from a few lengths back. He should be able to sit a few lengths off of SKYRING, and start making his run through the far turn and approaching the stretch. LONG ON VALUE's trainer Bill Mott has won the Dixie three times already; he looks well set to take down a fourth on Saturday.
LEGENDARY, WAR CORRESPONDENT, and GRAND TITO also have significant merit here. LEGENDARY should be one of the earlier movers, helpful if SKYRING gets away with walking on the front for a relatively long time. He has back speeds from last year that compare strongly with this field, and even though he may be best at longer than 1 1/16 miles, he is a stakes winner at this distance as well. That fourth-place finish last out in the Makers 46 over soft turf came first off the lay; he should be sharper in the Dixie, and the off-podium finish last out should only help him be a better price here. Finally, LEGENDARY has won twice over turf rated yielding, making him a strong contender assuming there is as much rain in the forecast as the meteorologists currently suggest. WAR CORRESPONDENT originally had the third slot, but he scratched the morning of the race. This move allowed CHAMOIS to draw in off of the also-eligible list. Though his outside post does not do him a lot of favours, he should be one of the small group who can keep SKYRING in his sights early. In addition to his running style, his 8-4-0-2 career line at the distance and the fact that he ran a solid third in last year's Dixie first off the lay make him a legitimate contender here. This time he is second off the lay, and though he did not race between June and April, he ran a solid second last out. Trainer Christophe Clement should have him even fitter today. Watch the tote; if the public ignores CHAMOIS because he was also-eligible, he could end up an overlay.
GRAND TITO's inside draw will not help him, but his style should suit the race perfectly. His 6-2-1-1 record at 1 1/16 miles merits respect, and he has been hitting the board consistently in Grade III and even Grade II company this year. His speeds have been consistent, and repeatedly in range of what he needs here. If Victor Espinoza finds space for him to run despite his inside draw, GRAND TITO should be around near the end. With the Dixie being the sort of race that invites going deeper in multi-race wagers, consider covering him as well.
UP WITH THE BIRDS went favoured in this race last year, and should be one of the favourites this year. First off the lay, he will be a colossal underlay. He has not shown himself to get going until a few starts into his form cycle, and the lack of early pace in the race will not help his style. Set him aside, and wait for him to get a race or two under his belt.
#12 LONG ON VALUE (8/1)
#9 LEGENDARY (12/1)
#15 CHAMOIS (8/1)
Longshot: The local, TALK SHOW MAN, does like the course, and has been in good form in his last two starts after falling in the Richard W. Small last year. However, TALK SHOW MAN probably has a better chance against this class of horse going longer than this, so #10 MANCHURIAN HIGH (15/1) gets the longshot nod here. MANCHURIAN HIGH sits farther back than the other horses endorsed by this space, but has shown that he can close ground late into reasonable to slow fractions. His 12-5-1-1 record at eight and a half panels on grass inspires confidence. He also finished just 1 1/4 lengths behind Mshawish last out; Mshawish franked that form considerably with his third-place finish in the Dubai Turf (GI - UAE). MANCHURIAN HIGH has fired off of lays before, and should be fit and ready to run well here.
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