2016 Dixie Stakes Preview and Saturday Stakes Selections

The spotlight shines on Pimlico this weekend, and Picks and Ponderings is there.  Saturday’s card is, of course, anchored by the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.  We have a full horse-by-horse preview of that race, in point/counterpoint style.  Here, we preview that day’s Dixie Stakes (GII) for older grass horses, as well as provide our picks for all stakes races on that day’s card. Friday’s card at Pimlico features the Black-Eyed Susan (GII); we have a preview, as well as selections for all stakes on Friday’s card.

The stakes season at Arlington gets underway this weekend, as well. Saturday’s feature is the Hanshin Cup (GIII), a one-turn polytrack mile, and we will have a detailed preview.

Turning back to the task at hand, this year marks the 115th 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 2014.  Two Triple Crown winners rank among winners of the Dixie: Assault (1947) and Whirlaway (1942).

You can watch the Dixie Stakes, as well as all races at Pimlico, on a free live stream on the racetrack website.  For radio coverage, tune into Horse Racing Radio Network between 2:00pm and 7:00pm Eastern for coverage of the Preakness and the undercard.  NBC Sports Network will provide televised coverage from 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm ET from Pimlico; coverage at 5:00 pm flips to NBC and continues through the Preakness.

Selections are for turf only.  Edited on May 20 to account for the announced scratches of TAKE THE STAND and LONG ON VALUE.  Edited May 21 to account for the scratch of CAGE FIGHTER.  Edited again May 21 to account for the later scratch of FORCE THE PASS.

Pimlico – Saturday, May 21

Race 12: Longines Dixie Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:39pm EDT

This race originally drew a field of thirteen, but the rainy weather at Pimlico has led to many scratches.

Four-year-old TAKEOVER TARGET has yet to make his breakthrough against older company, but this could be the place.  The distance should suit him; he has two wins in three starts at a mile and a sixteenth, including a Grade II win at the Spa last summer.  The stretch out (he went a mile last out, first off the lay) should help his case.  On pace, it would help if the issue gets forced up front, but he does have some back races in which he rallied into paces not excessively fast — see, again, that Hall of Fame win at Saratoga last year.  TAKEOVER TARGET also moves up in the rain, as well, given his strong victory in the Hill Prince (GIII) last year over turf rated soft, as well as a maiden win over yielding going.  Just as with Money Multiplier in the Man o’ War last week — when you can get Chad Brown at a price, take him.

Given the likelihood of a soft course, GRAND ARCH has some real appeal here.  He has absolutely thrived when there is cut in the ground.  The pace should suit him well, too.  There will not likely be a ton of speed; GRAND ARCH should be stalking close behind, and should get an early run.  Though he has made his name as a miler, he has two wins at a mile and a sixteenth, and has never missed the board in four tries at the distance.  Though this is GRAND ARCH’s first start since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) last year, he has fired well from layoffs before, and has a long worktab leading into this start.  He should be fit and ready.

The race did not have a lot of speed to begin with — and with TAKE THE STAND and CAGE FIGHTER out, it has even less.  This makes EL KABEIR, going first time on the grass, intriguing.  This son of Scat Daddy has been more of a stalking type in his more recent races, but dig back in his form lines and you see a horse with a lot of success on the front end.  RING WEEKEND is the only other who has shown any real front-end aptitude — think back to the Tampa Bay Derby he stole when no one else wanted the lead — but RING WEEKEND has been off for a year and EL KABEIR seems a bit more of a type to take the front end affirmatively than RING WEEKEND.  Though EL KABEIR has not seen the starter since February, he does have a long worktab leading into this start, including some drills on the green stuff.  With so little speed here and competitive enough figures on dirt, EL KABEIR is worth a look at solid odds.



#7 GRAND ARCH (4/1)

#10 EL KABEIR (20/1)

Longshot:  We promise, #3 CAPTAIN DIXIE (20/1) is not just a cute name play.  He has done nothing wrong since being claimed into the Jamie Ness barn two starts back.  He finished a close second against allowance-optional types at Gulfstream, and then won against N3X company at Laurel last out.  Though this is a step up from those, he has some back class to suggest he can make it against stakes company; the five-year-old has some stakes (and even graded stakes) form from his three-year-old year.  On pace, he tends to come from well off, but has shown he does not need especially fast fractions to be effective.  CAPTAIN DIXIE also likes the distance, having gotten a share in six of eight tries going a mile and a sixteenth.  He is showing more at five (even from his starts earlier this year for Chad Brown) than he did at four, and his recent form stacks up well with this field.  In a wide-open race such as this, CAPTAIN DIXIE could get a piece at a good price.


Below are all of our picks — from both Nicolle Neulist and Paul Mazur — for the stakes races on Saturday’s card at Pimlico. This will be updated as we finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about why we chose a particular horse, please leave us a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!


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