The Triple Crown season continues this weekend with the Preakness on Saturday, but Pimlico's top-shelf stakes action starts up on Friday. The day's feature, which Picks and Ponderings previews in detail, is the Black-Eyed Susan: a Grade 2 affair, and the first major dirt route for sophomore fillies after the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
The Black-Eyed Susan began its life in 1919 as a 1 1/16 mile race known as the Pimlico Oaks; its name was changed to recognise Maryland's state flower in 1952. Through its history it has been run at distances as short as a mile and 70 yards and as long as a mile and an eighth; it has been at its current mile and an eighth consistently since 1989.
Though its current place the day before the Preakness makes a sweep of this race all but impossible nowadays, one filly won both the Pimlico Oaks and the Preakness Stakes: Nellie Morse, in 1924. In more recent times, a pair of Black-Eyed Susan winners have gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Distaff: Stopchargingmaria (2014) won at age four, and Royal Delta (2011) won the race (then known as the Ladies' Classic) twice, at ages three and four.
Royal Delta rallies for a clear victory in the 2011 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
Below the analysis of the Black-Eyed Susan, we will share selections from both Nicolle Neulist and Paul Mazur for each of the stakes races on Friday. A separate piece will provide horse-by-horse analysis of the Preakness field, and selections for Saturday's stakes races at Pimlico.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated May 16 with pre-scratch morning lines.
Friday, May 19 - Pimlico Racecourse
Race 11: Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 4:50pm EDT
The Weber City Miss stakes at Laurel is a "Win and You're In" for the Black-Eyed Susan. So, when you see a trainer who has won this race four times who sends a good horse to win a bid, it suggests he has a well-planned campaign for a horse who is good at the right time. Enter Todd Pletcher. Enter LIGHTS OF MEDINA. She never quite put it together in three starts at age two, but put it together this year. She graduated in March at Laurel, then won right back in the Weber City Miss. Both times, she stalked the pace, a running style that should work here. Though her stakes victory came in the mud, she handled fast dirt well in her maiden victory, so good weather should suit her fine. Also interesting is that Todd Pletcher sticks with a Maryland ace in the irons: Fearghal Lynch had the call on LIGHTS OF MEDINA in the Weber City Miss, and returns here. Lynch was hot during opening weekend at Pimlico, and should be an asset here as well.
DANCING RAGS is the class of this field, a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile. She disappointed a bit last out in the Beaumont (G3), and will need a step forward to win this, but there are several reasons she can. The Beaumont was her first start of the year, and was just seven furlongs. Last year, DANCING RAGS woke up going a route of ground, something she gets here. She also woke up in her second start last year, so the Beaumont likely tightened the Graham Motion trainee up a bit for this. Though DANCING RAGS loses Angel Cruz, her rider for all five of her previous career starts, he does get Trevor McCarthy -- both a sharp Maryland rider and one who has been strong recently with Motion's horses.
MOANA, like LIGHTS OF MEDINA, hails from Todd Pletcher's shedrow. She is lightly raced, with just two starts under her girth. She graduated April 14 at Keeneland, her second start, and tries winners for the first time here. Both of those maiden starts that MOANA made came at two turns, and her stamina breeding is good enough to suggest she'll take to nine furlongs. On pace, she stands to be forward, but does not need the lead. On speed, she's already right where she needs to be in order to stack up against the best she faces here. Furthermore, MOANA also gets rider John Velazquez aboard. He guided her to that maiden win last month at Keeneland. And, though Velazquez is not a Pimlico local, he has won four editions of the Black-Eyed Susan already.
#5 LIGHTS OF MEDINA (8/1)
#3 DANCING RAGS (8/1)
#7 MOANA (4/1)
Longshot: #10 ACTRESS (12/1) is still a maiden, and mid-May in the three-year-old year is a bit late to see non-winners in graded stakes. Even so, there is quite a bit to make ACTRESS look like more than just a pretender in the Black-Eyed Susan. She hails from the barn of Jason Servis, who fires at 24% with horses trying routes for the first time. Both of ACTRESS's starts have come at sprints, but her breeding (by Tapit out of the long-winded Milwaukee Brew mare Milwaukee Appeal) suggests that she will love nine furlongs. In two races at one turn, she came from far off the pace once, and just a bit off the pace in the other. She finished second in both of them, suggesting that she has some level of pace versatility, and her late pace has been strong in both of those starts. Should she get a bit of speed in front of her -- a possibility, given the running styles of her foes -- she will be a threat down the stretch. ACTRESS will need to move forward to win this. But, with every right to improve going a route, ACTRESS looks an intriguing spoiler in the Black-Eyed Susan.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's and Paul Mazur's picks for Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Day card at Pimlico. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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