This week, horse racing shifts its attention to Old Hilltop. We, as well, will turn our focus there: this piece will examine Friday's feature, the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) for three-year-old fillies. In a separate piece, we take a horse-by-horse look at Saturday's Preakness Stakes.
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 and the Preakness 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.
Pimlico Race Course - Friday, May 17
Race 11: Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 4:48pm EDT
This year's edition of the Black-Eyed Susan drew nine horses to vie for a $250,000 purse -- and plenty of early pace. ULELE, COOKIE DOUGH, OUR SUPER FREAK, and LAS SETAS have all done their best work up front, though none can be described as truly cheap speed. ULELE has shown a stalking gear, COOKIE DOUGH can press, and LAS SETAS and OUR SUPER FREAK threw down in a protracted duel in the Weber City Miss. Even so, the pace should be swift, and it should set up for a good horse to come in from off the pace to pick them off.
Enter ALWAYS SHOPPING. This daughter of Awesome Again has blossomed since stretching out to nine furlongs, breaking her maiden in the Busanda Stakes on February 3, then winning again in the Gazelle (G2) on April 6. She did both of those efforts fresh, rested a month and a half before the Busanda and then another two months until the Gazelle. It has been another month and a half, likely plenty of time for her to be ready for her best again. ALWAYS SHOPPING's last two outings have suggested some versatility as to where rider Franco can place her; expect a trip just a bit more like the Busanda, given the speed contingent. With proven stamina and the chance to get just the right trip, ALWAYS SHOPPING looks tailor-made for this race.
POINT OF HONOR should be coming from a bit further back, though she doesn't have to settle all the way in the clouds. She does have to improve from her Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) effort; it wasn't a total clunker, but she didn't show quite the kick that she did in either her maiden win or the Suncoast. If she does, however, POINT OF HONOR will be dangerous thanks to all the speed in front of her. She will have to prove that she can get the mile and an eighth, as she hasn't tried it yet -- but being by Curlin out of a Bernardini half to Mr Freeze (a G3 winner at a mile and an eighth on dirt), she has every right to stay the trip. POINT OF HONOR will have to fire fresh -- she has been laid off two and a half months, thanks to not getting in off the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Oaks -- but her trainer George Weaver is a solid layoff conditioner and she fits nicely in this.
ALWAYS SHOPPING may be the Todd Pletcher "A" entry, but he has another contender as well. OFF TOPIC does have tables to turn on her stablemate, as she ran third behind the top choice last time out. However, with more speed in the Black-Eyed Susan than there was in the Gazelle, she has a right to move forward off of that effort. After all, she wasn't losing ground late in that mile and an eighth race -- the horses in front of her just had enough to keep on going, as well. OFF TOPIC also has the pedigree to merit another shot at a mile and an eighth, being by Street Sense out of an Include mare who was well proven at two turns. Trip is the question, but rider John Velazquez is proven in big races -- and if the pace sets up hot enough, you may not need first run to get best run.
#6 ALWAYS SHOPPING (4/1)
#8 POINT OF HONOR (5/2)
#2 OFF TOPIC (8/1)
Longshot: #1 SWEET DIANE (15/1) makes her first start for trainer Eddie Kenneally and new owner River Bend Farm, after selling at Keeneland April for a cool $500K. It was an ambitious sale price for a horse who broke her maiden at Penn National last year -- but she had since hit the board in three stakes races, and her pedigree (by Will Take Charge out of a Tiznow mare who was stakes-placed at a mile and an eighth at age four) appeals more for time and distance than for precocity. SWEET DIANE can start putting that to the test here, as she is another one who won't get bogged down in the hot pace. The barn switch makes her particularly appealing -- trainer Kenneally wins a quarter of the time with new arrivals to his barn, and hits the board almost two thirds of the time in that circumstance. And, with so many more marquee names in this field, SWEET DIANE is just the kidn of horse who should go off at a price for new connections that can wake her up.
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