By Gene Kershner
The News is ready to kickoff a great weekend at Old Hilltop which will culminate in the Preakness Stakes late Saturday afternoon. On tap Friday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course is the 1 1/8-mile $500,000 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. Friday’s card will also include the G3 Pimlico Special and five other non-graded stakes races.
The 90th running of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes features 11 fillies trying to step up within the 3-year-old filly division, which saw Untapable stake her claim as the best filly in the land in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago. Heavy rain is forecast for Friday, clearing by Saturday for the Preakness.
This year’s race will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network (4 p.m.) in a one-hour telecast as part of NBC’s weekend coverage of the Preakness Stakes.
Let’s take a look at the field for the Black-Eyed Susan (trainer, jockey, odds in parenthesis):
1 – Joint Return (Servis, Carmouche, 15-1) – Winner of Calder Oaks non-graded stake against lesser rivals. The daughter of Include has faced graded company only once in her career and was beaten by 12 lenghts. Little dicey in here for her.
2 – America (Mott, Velazquez, 8-1) – Working well for trainer Bill Mott after a third place finish in the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks. She sports a bullet work in Saratoga on Monday and looks to be fit and ready to run. Has breeding to go long for celebrity chef owner Bobby Flay. Contender.
3 – Shanon Nicole (Maker, Smith, 6-1) – Mike Smith takes over from Rosie Napravnik aboard this daughter of Majestic Warrior. Past performance doesn't favor her chances in here even with the Hall of Famer aboard. Passing in favor of others.
4 – Stopchargingmaria (Pletcher, Castellano, 7-2) – Comes in third off the layoff on the form cycle and has a win at the distance in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A in her 2-year-old campaign. Pletcher has won the race three times in the last 10 years, but chooses Castellano over Johnny V, who rode her in here last two efforts since the Demoiselle. On the fence with this one.
5 – Euphrosyne (Asmussen, Santana Jr., 4-1) – Asmussen who won the Oaks with Untapable last weekend will look for the sweep with his Harlan's Holiday filly. She comes off two efforts at Oaklawn where she was beaten by Oaks filly Sugar Shock in both efforts. She hasn't missed the board in seven career races. Win threat.
6 – Arethusa (Harty, Napravnik, 8-1) – Trainer Eoin Harty ships in A.P. Indy filly who will be racing on the east coast for the first time. Won a non-graded stake last November for Godolphin, but has been out-classed against top company during 2014. Taking a stand against.
7 - La Mejor Fiesta (Ward, Espinoza, 20-1) –Makes second career start on dirt for trainer Wesley Ward. Won a non-graded stake at Remington, but Friday afternoon she won't be seeing Remington-caliber fillies next to her. Toss.
8 – Sloane Square (Pletcher, Rosario, 5-1) – Lightly raced filly draws top rider Joel Rosario over Johnny V. Do you see a pattern here? She stretches out for the first time after a solid workout last weekend at Saratoga. Breeding suggests she could be a sleeper and serious contender.
9 – Fortune Pearl (Motion, McCarthy, 12-1) –Mineshaft filly faces graded company for the first time for Graham Motion. Local jockey Trevor McCarthy has the mount and local knowledge, could threaten to crash the exotics underneath.
10– Vero Amore (Reid, Jr., Pennington, 15-1) – Another Mineshaft filly who would be a big surprise winner if she pulled off the upset. Has decent speed figures, but this would be a serious class test and she struggled at the distance last Out against graded competition.
11– Image of Anna (Violette, Jr., Saez, 20-1) – Ready's Image filly ships in from New York after four career races at the Big A, including back-to-back wins in her last two races. Broke her maiden impressively and backed it up with an allowance win. Big class test.
Post Time Outlook – 1 –Euphrosyne; 2 –America; 3 - Sloane Square; 4 - Stopchargingmaria
Good luck and let’s cash some tickets.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.