The Kentucky Derby had its Big Four. Tomorrow's Pimlico Special has big names, for sure, but whether it has the Big Two or the Big Five is unclear.
Unbridled and Summer Squall are marquee names, ones that fans associate with victories in Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races. At yesterday's breakfast draw for post positions, those two colts easily drew the most attention.
DTheir three top foes in the $750,000 Special -- Jolie's Halo, Festin and Farma Way -- have less recognition value, but at this point they are rated as virtual equals with Unbridled and Summer Squall among knowledgeable racing people.
a very well-balanced field," said Unbridled's trainer, Carl Nafzger. "There's class speed, there's class closers, there's class tactical speed. I'd imagine all the trainers are anticipating a close race."
Although track oddsmaker Jeff Weissman hedged on his Special morning line, making Unbridled and Summer Squall co-favorites at 3-1 -- leading the breakfast master of ceremonies, Jim McKay, to call the line "not too brave" -- those two should distance themselves, as far as odds go, after bets are placed on the 1 3/16-mile race.
CBut the fallout from the first three events in the 10-race American Racing Championship Series, for which the Pimlico Special is the fourth stop, has given the Special legitimate contenders besides the headliner horses.
The emergence of Jolie's Halo, Farma Way and Festin -- each of whom has won an ACRS event -- yesterday led Happy Alter, trainer of Jolie's Halo, to dub the race, "The Battle of Champions."
Festin and Farma Way clashed in the past two ACRS races. Farma Way, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, ran his 1991 record to 5-for-5 when winning the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap; Festin was second. In the Oaklawn Handicap, Festin won on a sloppy track as Farma Way faded to seventh.
Because the Oaklawn Park surface was so wet, many have regarded the race as a fluke. Such reasoning
discredits Festin, the latest bloomer of the oncoming trio.
don't believe he has to have a muddy track like he did in Arkansas," said Ron McAnally, trainer of Festin. "He ran a good second on afast track at Santa Anita, and he'd been improving all along."
Festin, a 5-year-old with a come-from-behind style, worked a fast four furlongs at Pimlico yesterday, finishing in 46 2/5 seconds with Gregg McCarron as exercise rider.
Ever since I've been coming here, for about 10 years, I've noticed this track has favored speed," said McAnally. "We did have to put a little more speed in him over this track than we did at Oaklawn [where Festin worked in 48 4/5 seconds before his victory]. Plus, the track is fast here. [McCarron] wasn't hitting him or anything. If he needs the speed to lay a little closer, then I think this will help him."
Lukas, who saddled Criminal Type to win last year's Special, said the race could set up in a similarly favorable manner for Farma Way this year.
Last year, Criminal Type chased the front-runner, Ruhlmann, before surging past in the final furlong.
This year's race could develop the same way, said Lukas. "Jolie's Halo and Farma Way certainly figure prominently early," he said. "And then Summer Squall could be right behind, dogging them."
Summer Squall drew the No. 1 post in the field of seven. Asked what effect the posts will have on the field, Neil Howard, the colt's trainer, said, "There's the long run to the first turn, so they shouldn't make any difference. Everyone will get a chance to settle in and get a clean trip from there."
EThere are two long shots in the field. Silver Survivor, fourth in the Oaklawn Handicap, and Reputed Testamony, the only Maryland-based runner, have tough tasks, said Richard Hemmings.
"These are all great horses," said Hemmings, who will saddle Reputed Testamony. "I think my horse deserves a shot. He's been steadily moving up in class, and I believe he'll acquit himself well."
NOTES: The Special field comprises five 4-year-olds and two 5-year-olds. Festin and Silver Survivor are the older members. . . . The favorite's role may not be so enviable. Since the Special was revived in 1988 after a 30-year hiatus, the favorite has not finished higher than fourth. Alysheba (1988), Cryptoclearance (1989) and Opening Verse (1990) all failed as betting choices. . . . Craig Perret and Pat Day, who ride the two favorites, both have won the Special. Perret won in 1988 on Bet Twice, and Day won on Blushing John the next year. . . . There will be Triple wagering on the Special. . . . Jockey Joe Rocco won three races at Pimlico yesterday, including the $18,000 feature aboard favored Special Kell.