Five stakes races offering more than $1 million in purse money, including the Grade I, $500,000 Pimlico Special, headline a 12-race Preakness eve program today at Pimlico.
The 39th Pimlico Special and the co-featured Grade II, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies loom as hotly contested races.
At the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, the Special attracted nine runners, including 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, who will bring lifetime earnings in excess of $3 million into his 2005 debut. He is top-weighted at 120 pounds for the handicap.
But the New York-bred gelding will face stiff competition from Badge of Silver, the overnight favorite at 5-2 odds; Eddington, third behind Smarty Jones in last year's Preakness, and Offlee Wild, coming off an easy score in a Grade III stakes at Aqueduct in April.
"It's damn tough," trainer Barclay Tagg said of the field. "And I'm coming off a seven-month layoff and carrying top weight. Not any race for this horse is a walk in the park."
Tagg's plan is to race Funny Cide five times this season, all in New York except for the Special, and finish at the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park.
"This is probably his best shot at doing well in the Breeders' Cup," Tagg said. "It's right here at Belmont on a track he likes. He likes the distance. The weather should be cool. I'd like to get him there fresh."
Also to be considered in the Special is Pollard's Vision, a victor over Badge of Silver in the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne on April 23.
Funny Cide was scratched from last year's Special at the last minute because of a breathing problem when the weather turned hot and humid.
The Black-Eyed Susan - run at 1 1/8 miles - has a six-horse lineup, with Runway Model a strong favorite at 8-5 despite a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs when she became trapped on the rail. Gary Stevens gets the mount for the first time.
Major argument is expected from Spun Sugar, making her stakes debut after two straight victories, and R Lady Joy, the only other stakes winner in the field besides Runway Model.
Todd Pletcher-trained Ashado will be a top-heavy choice in the Grade III, $150,000 Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup if she starts. She is cross-entered in the Ruffian Stakes at Belmont tomorrow. If Ashado goes in New York, another Pletcher charge, Colony Band, may be the favorite.
Also on the card are the Grade III, $100,000 Miss Preakness - in which yet another member of the loaded Pletcher barn, Maddalena, will be the likely post-time pick - and the $75,000 Very One Stakes.
Jogging and galloping
With their major preparations behind them, the Preakness horses confined their activity to jogging and galloping yesterday.
Giacomo made a good impression on trainer John Shirreffs during the Kentucky Derby victor's first exposure to the track.
"He was comfortable," Shirreffs said. "He wasn't looking at all the tents in the infield. When he jogged on the backside and got into his gallop, he got into a nice, easy long gallop, a nice stride. He wasn't going short. He looked like his normal self."
Exercise rider Frankie Herrarte told the trainer that Giacomo likes the Pimlico surface, the same comment he made about the track before the Derby.
Likely favorite Afleet Alex was out for "controlled exercise" at the direction of trainer Tim Ritchey.
"That way he's not going to go faster than we wanted him to," he said. "It's like a little bit of a taper down to get a bigger performance on Saturday."
Wilson is honored
Jockey Rick Wilson, seriously injured in a spill last spring, drew the biggest applause at the annual Alibi Breakfast yesterday when he was named honorary postmaster of the Preakness.
Other awards were presented to Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News, Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form, Scott Garceau of WMAR-TV, photographer Gary Hershorn of Reuters and jockey Jerry Bailey.
Jacobs' Grand Slam
Colonial Downs chief executive officer Jeffrey Jacobs will hold a news conference today to announce the Grand Slam of Grass, billed as the nation's premier thoroughbred turf racing series.
The event is to encompass four major grass races at three of the nation's top racetracks.
Sun staff writer Tom Keyser contributed to this article.