Dixie looking like competitive run on turf

Speed bias returns at Pimlico, concerning Derby winner Antley

Notebook

May 15, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

A highly competitive race looms in the Grade II, $200,000 Dixie, the turf showdown over 1 1/8 miles that will headline today's Preakness undercard.

Included in the field are Sky Colony, second to Yagli in this event last year, Sharp Appeal, who has Edgar Prado in the saddle, and Elliott Walden-trained Merlin's Ring.

Sharp Appeal has the highest lifetime earnings in the field -- more than $500,000 -- and was third in the 1997 Dixie behind Ops Smile. He finished second to Federal Trial in the Hialeah Turf Cup in his most recent outing.

Merlin's Ring was beaten a half-length by Delayed Game under allowance conditions at Keeneland to prepare for this test. An English-bred who campaigned in Europe last fall, he is owned by James Stone, part owner of Preakness favorite Menifee.

Praise Heaven -- to be ridden by Kent Desormeaux -- is the local hope.

Eight challengers will take aim on Carter Handicap winner Artax in the Grade III, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup over six furlongs.

It will be a formidable test because Artax zoomed to a track record of 1 minute, 20.04 seconds over seven furlongs in the Grade I Carter, beating Affirmed Success easily in the process. Artax ran in last year's Kentucky Derby, finishing 13th, and is an 8-5 overnight favorite.

The field includes an intriguing entry in Yes It's True, a 3-year-old trained by D. Wayne Lukas who is in with older horses for the first time.

He finished fourth in the Derby Trial at 9-5 odds.

Familiar Maryland runners like Purple Passion, Wire Me Collect and Greenspring Willy will also give chase.

Unbridled Hope should rule as a slight choice in the Grade III, $200,000 Pimlico Distaff for older females.

The daughter of Derby winner Unbridled carries a four-race winning streak, the latest an easy score over Distaff entry Manoa in the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct. But she hasn't raced since December.

Contention is expected from the local filly Merengue, who has drawn top weight of 121 pounds, and French Braids, second in the Humana Distaff on the Derby Day card.

The toughest of the companion stakes should be the $100,000 Sir Barton, annually contested by strong 3-year-olds who don't quite make the Preakness field. Thomas Jo won the Sir Barton last year and went on to run third in the Belmont to Victory Gallop and Real Quiet.

The MATCH event attracted 15 entries, but one will not start.

Bob Baffert-trainee Straight Man -- third in the Derby Trial -- has been something of a disappointment after winning his first two starts at Santa Anita, but fits this field well.

Another to weigh highly is Federico Tesio winner Talk's Cheap, who was also considered for the Preakness. Rushing Brush and Harry's Halo appear the best of the locals.

In the race immediately before the Preakness, the $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap, Early Warning and Smile Again may attract the bettors' attention most.

Rail bias back?

Will the rail bias show up again today? Long known as a speed-favoring track until recent years, Pimlico regained its old reputation for a day yesterday, when seven of 10 winners on the dirt went wire to wire and horses breaking from the inside won five of the first six races.

"It's terrible," said Kentucky Derby champion rider Chris Antley, who broke the stranglehold in the seventh race by rushing Loen Salt to the lead from the No. 6 post and scooting quickly over to the rail before the first turn.

"I hope they do something about it. It's not playing a little bit biased; it's playing extremely biased. Where you break is where you finish."

In the Black-Eyed Susan, Silverbulletday climaxed the program's inside dominance.

Menifee favored

Kentucky Derby runner-up Menifee remained the Preakness favorite yesterday after $58,487 was bet in the Maryland win pool. He was at 2-1 with Cat Thief, third in the Derby, second at 7-2.

Following in order were: Worldly Manner, 5-1; Excellent Meeting, 7-1; Charismatic, 9-1; Stephen Got Even, 12-1; Patience Game, 15-1; Kimberlite Pipe, 20-1; Adonis, 20-1; Valhol, 33-1; Badge, 35-1; Vicar (likely scratch), 60-1; Torrid Sand, 65-1, and Silverbulletday (certain scratch), 99-1.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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