Eight stakes on undercard
Grade 1 winners Ring Weekend and Grand Arch head a salty field of 13 as they make their 2016 debuts in the Grade 2, $250,000 Dixie Stakes for older horses on turf Saturday at Pimlico.
The Dixie is the richest of the eight stakes on the undercard of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes and immediately precedes the classic on the card. First post for Saturday’s 14-race card is 10:30 a.m. Eastern.
Ring Weekend, based at the nearby Fair Hill Training Center with trainer Graham Motion, has not started since winning the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile in March 2015. He subsequently was sidelined by a prolonged struggle with a foot abscess.
Grand Arch, trained by Brian Lynch, finished his 2015 season in the best form of his career, winning the Grade 2 Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile at Keeneland before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
The two geldings drew toward the middle of the field, with Grand Arch in post 7 under Luis Saez and Ring Weekend in post 9 under John Velazquez.
Also in the Dixie lineup are Grade 1 winner Force the Pass; multiple graded stakes winner El Kabeir, making his turf debut; Cage Fighter, who finished second in the 2015 Dixie; graded stakes winners Long On Value, Takeover Target, Take the Stand, and Za Approval; and group stakesplaced Prince Gagarin, who won his U.S. debut last month at Keeneland.
Elsewhere on the undercard, the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds drew a handful of runners who were under Triple Crown consideration at one point, led by Dazzling Gem. After winning his first two starts, the colt was third in the Louisiana Derby and fourth in the Arkansas Derby. His connections opted for this 1 1/16-mile spot after strongly considering the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
“Honestly, right now it might not be a bad thing to shorten this horse up a little bit,” trainer Brad Cox said. “His last two races have been a mile and an eighth. I’m not saying he can’t handle a mile and an eighth, but he certainly didn’t jump out that he wanted even more ground going a mile and three-sixteenths, so we’ll back him up a little bit, and it’s softer competition in the Sir Barton as opposed to the Preakness.”
Also entered for the Sir Barton is the Todd Pletcher duo of stakes-placed Gettysburg, most recently fifth in the Arkansas Derby, and Donegal Moon, most recently eighth in the Blue Grass.
The well-traveled Lady Shipman headlines the $100,000 The Very One Stakes for fillies and mares sprinting on turf. She won six stakes last year, including the Stormy Blues Stakes at Pimlico, and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. She comes back to Pimlico having won two of three starts in 2016, with her only loss coming in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai. Lady Shipman drew the outside post in the field of 12.
The two other graded stakes on the Saturday card are the Grade 3, $150,000 Gallorette Stakes for fillies and mares on turf and the Grade 3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes. The Maryland Sprint, which drew the shortest stakes field of the day with seven horses, is headed by Grade 1 winner Salutos Amigos and multiple graded stakes winner Cinco Charlie.
The other stakes on the card are the $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, the $100,000 James W. Murphy Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf, and the $100,000 Skipat Stakes for fillies and mares sprinting.
The Preakness anchors a $2 million-guaranteed pick four and a $1 million-guaranteed pick five. The Preakness will also be the last race of a $100,000 guarantee in the Rainbow 6, which begins with race 8.
Other guarantees include a $250,000 pick five beginning with race 2, a $300,000 pick four beginning with race 3, and a $500,000 pick five beginning with race 6.