05/17/2008 10:12AM

Preakness Day Live


11:12 am: It's 67 and sunny at Pimlico, with only a 10 percent chance of any rain before 5 p.m. The chalk-chalk early double is in the books, with Don'ttrythisathome ($6.20) taking the first for Scott Lake in 1:09.88 after dueling from the ouside in 45.30 and drawing off while wide. Actually got to see the second race just after ESPN2 came on at 11 a.m., where Media Play ($6.80) won the N1x for track owner Frank Stronach in 1:43.60 with a wide rally from far back over pacesetter Access Love. The main track looks fast and fair and the turf is being labelled "good."

Only 23 late scratches at Pimlico today, but that includes seven from the off-the-turf second race (the rest of the turf races stay put); Forest Park twice, since he was scratched from both the 3rd and the 8th; and Behindatthebar from the Preakness, which we've known about for two days.

Twenty minutes until the 3rd, the five-horse Maryland Sprint Handicap. Thoughts on the early pick 4 (race 4 through 7) coming soon.

11:52 am: Early pick-4 starts in 12 minutes. Hard to make it pay a lot with fields of just 10, 6, 6 and 5, but here's what I thought:

Race 4 (Deputed Testamony H.): The two favorites, Off the Glass and Shining Punch, look like the right ones in this starter handicap for Maryland-breds who have run for a $17.5k claiming tag in '07-'08. Off the Glass has won the equivalent of this race three times, including the Preakness day '06 version, and would be odds-on if he weren't returning from a 5 1/2-month layoff. A: 8,10. C: 1,2,6,7.

Race 5 (Skipat Stakes) : Akronism's A race wins this, Drama Lady looked like a new and improved horse winning her season bow at Gulfstream last time out, and My Sister Sue (beaten a head in this race last year) could be dangerous on the lead if she gets clear of Hold That Prospect early. A: 3,6,7

Race 6: (Gallorette Handicap): Easy as some combination of 1-2-3, as Valbenny, Stormy West and Roshani tower over three rivals. I'll press Roshani, who figures to get a soft pace and a sweet trip. A:3 B:1,2.

Race 7: (Barbaro Stakes): Five starters with a combined seven victories seek their first stakes victory here, and multiple stakes-placed Roman Emperor is faster to date and more seasoned than the others. A repeat of his second to Barrier Reef in the Whirlaway would win this. I'll also use Spurrier, the best finisher, and D'Tara, who's improving and should appreciate a return to two-turn racing. A:1 B: 3,5.

In the 3rd, trainer Gary Contessa followed up his Black-Eyed Susan victory with Sweet Vendetta by sending out Starforaday to win the G3 Maryland Sprint Handicap. Starforaday ($8.20), best remembered (at least by me) for winning the last leg of the Travers Day pick-six at 27-1 when trained by Donna Wormser, was bought by Winning Move Stable and transferred to Contessa over the winter and returned with a career-best effort winning an Aqueduct allowance race May 1. Starforaday ran the six furlongs in 1:09.56 under Prado.

12:45 pm: In the Deputed Testamony, sharp local trainer Damon Dilodovico continued his dominance of these big-day statebred starter handicaps. He trained Off the Glass to win three of them, including the 2006 Preakness Day one, and he scored here with Let Me Be Frank, who he claimed for just $5,000 two starts back. This race looked like the Pimlico of yore, a two-speed number and a treadmill of a race, with Let's Be Frank leading Gammy's a Winner from flagfall to finish. Let Me Be Frank, a sturdy (84 career starts) 6-year-old with a sturdy pedigree -- he's by Awad out of an Ack Ack (!) mare -- ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.24 and paid $9.60 as the fourth choice.

1:20 pm: Late-arriving crowd or more Eight Belles fallout? Betting on the first five Preakness Day races is down a staggering 22 percent over last year's corresponding handle, with 26 of the day's first 28 pools lower than last year's by anywhere from 11 to 48 percent. By contrast, Derby Day betting was up 16 percent year over year through the first five races, though it later slipped and ended up down 2 percent for the day.

Tough beat for me in the Skipat, as 7-1 (!) My Sister Sue blasted to the lead and looked home free with a 3 1/2-length lead after five furlongs in 56.57, but 2-1 Akronism nailed her at the wire to win by a neck. It was a virtual rerun of last year's Skipat, when My Sister Sue had a two-length lead at the furlong pole and lost by a head to Silmaril. Akronism, a 4-year-old Not For Love filly owned and bred by Robert S. Evans and trained by Tim Ritchey, was the slight favorite over 2-1 Drama Lady and ran the six furlongs under Pablo Morales in 1:09.76. The $40.00 exacta was some consolation but My Sister Sue would have made the pick-4 a lot more interesting than it's looking at the halfway point. I'm alive 3/1,3,5 for $2 and 1,2/1,3,5 for $1. Even if I get there, it's unclear that I will get my $198 investment back.

1:40 pm: Roshani looked like she was going to get worn down by Lady Digby with a furlong to go in the Gallorette, but dug in and prevailed by a neck in the first grass race at Pimlico since May 4. Roshani, a 5-year-old Fantastic Light mare who won last year's Matchmaker, had to survive a five-minute stewards' inquiry and a foul claim for incidental brushing in the stretch. Roshani ran the mile and a sixteenth for Pletcher/Velazquez in 1:45.02, 4.70 seconds slower than Precious Kitten's 1:40.32 on a firm course last year. The course could just as easily be labelled "yielding" as "good."

2:38 pm: You can see my lack of imagination and insight for the back half of the Preakness card from the following caveman pick-6 play I put in to keep me out of trouble for a while: 2x7x2x1x8x1. This was supposed to be a $224 play at the $1 Pimlico minimum, but NYRA Rewards rejected the wager at less than $2, so I went for the $448.

Race 7 (Barbaro Stakes): Used 1-2 finishers Roman Emperor ($5.20) and D'Tara (9-5). Woo-hoo. At least I got almost 3-to-5 on the pick-4 play when Roman Emperor completed a $318.20 for $2 sequence.

Race 8: (Old Mutual Turf Sprint): My 7 of the 11 are the 1,6,7,8,12,13 and 14. C'mon somebody.

Race 9: (Hirsch Jacobs): Can't get past Lantana Mob and Force Freeze in their Bachelor Stakes rematch.

Race 10: Shakis feels like 50-50 to show up and run his A race. If he does, he'll gallop, so I singled him. If he doesn't, I would have had to go deep (and will in the pick-4) with Distorted Reality, Stay Close and Salinja, and I'm not confident enough in any of them to say Buffalo Man, Pays to Dream and Pick Six can't win if the favorite fails.

Race 11: I hit the coward's button and went "all." This race seems entirely chaotic to me. Bear Now is the field's lone graded stakes-winner and her Cotillion victory over Octave was huge, but she she may get flambeed early by Peach Flambe and the closers are inches apart on paper.

Race 12: Singled Big Brown. If I get that far, I hope to be getting better than 1-to-5 and I can always make a win bet on Kentucky Bear.

3:05 pm: What's the easiest way to put a 9-5 favorite into the winners' circle? Go seven deep in a race. Heros Reward rerallied in deep stretch to get past 6-1 True to Tradition and continue the chalkfest. Maybe I should start paying attention to those Beyer Speed Figure things: Heros Reward had three triple-digit turf-sprint figs, three times as many as his 10 opponents combined. Heros Reward, a 6-year-old Partner's Hero gelding, ran the five furlongs on the turf in 59.19 for Capuano/Castellano. Heros Reward won the race last year for Capuano/Prado as the 5-2 favorite in 55.90.

4:05 pm: The wind is picking up at Pimlico and there may be some rain before the Preakness. In the meantime, Lantana Mob just became the fourth horse to equal Northern Wolf's 18-year-old track-record of 1:09 when he just got up at the wire to catch Silver Edition in the G3 Hirsch Jacobs for 3-year-olds in 1:09.10. (Races were timed only in fifths at Pimlico prior to 1999.) The son of Posse, trained by Steve Asmussen (who also trained his sire), rallied widest under Robbie Albarado to become the sixth winning favorite in nine races.

The other three horses credited with a 1:09 flat at Pimlico are a pretty nice trio: Diabolical in last year's Maryland Sprint Handicap, Forest Wildcat in the 1996 Hirsch Jacobs, and champion Xtra Heat in the 2001 Straight Deal.

4:40 pm: Finally, a price. Pays to Dream loved the yielding turf, slipped through on the inside, and ran away with the G2 Dixie Stakes at 19-1. It's not clear that anyone else ran his race and Shakis completely floundered as the favorite, finishing fifth. Pays to Dream needed 1:54.74 to cover the boggy nine furlongs but finished with a fast final furlong of 11.84 after trailing early behind fractions of 26.36, 51.71 and 1:16.24. Stay Close held second with Ra Der Dean third.

Pays to Dream, a 4-year-old New York-bred gelding trained by David Donk, races for the December Hill Farm started by the late Allan Dragone, the former chairman of NYRA. Dragone's son, Christopher, is at this moment the President of Pimlico but according to published reports will not retain that position past this weekend.

Dead in the pick-6 here, but alive for what could be some nice pick-fours. All in the DuPont to Big Brown and Kentucky Bear.

Through 10 races, Preakness Day handle is down 10 percent against last year after being down 22 percent after five races. Some bigger fields, and repositioning of the stakes races, seems to account the closing of the gap.

5:35 pm: Still haven't seen the DuPont Distaff, which fell between the cracks of television coverage as ESPN and NBC presented their back-to-back "industry crisis" roundtables. Apparently Larry Jones trainee Buy The Barrel won and paid $8.00 after a mile and a sixteenth in 1:42.43. I'm a little surprised the race went slower than Roman Emperor's 1:42.10 in the Barbaro.

Presumably runner-up Lexi Star, 20-1 on the morning line, would have been a better pick-4 result for me. Even with a 3-1 shot, they're paying $1,182 to Big Brown and $18,649 to Kentucky Bear. May the best horse win.

7:00 pm: The best horse won, and how. When Big Brown spurted away from his rivals at the top of the stretch, the overhead camera view showed him striding so much longer and running so much faster than his rivals that he seemed to take flight. He probably could have won by a lot more than 5 1/4 lengths had he been fully asked or extended in the final furlong, the way Funny Cide and Smarty Jones did with their double-digit margins, but Kent Desormeaux wisely peeked back and wrapped up, already thinking ahead to the Belmont.

The next one will probably be tougher, with the extra quarter mile, the intriguing Casino Drive, and some freshened up Derby challengers taking another shot. But right now Big Brown is in a world of his own among the 3-year-olds of 2008.

Macho Again turned the $2.40 winner into a $36.60 exacta, and adding New York-bred Icabad Crane for third got you a $336.80 trifecta. Racecar Rhapsody completed a $2364.40 superfecta. Big Brown completed a $415.80 pick-3, a $1,182 pick-4 and a $7726.80 pick-6. (All payoffs are in $2 prices.)

Wagering for the day was down 15 percent on both the full card and the Preakness itself. Preakness wagering declined from $56.4 million in 2007 to $47.9 million today, an $8.5 million decline. For the 13-race card, the drop was $12.5 million, from $83.6 million to $71.1 million.

Big Brown's winning time of 1:54.80 is probably not going to come up a particularly fast figure, but it's worth remembering that he was taken under a strong hold while waiting for Riley Tucker to clear him down the backstretch, and geared down at the end. The time will not reflect his utter dominance of his opponents, albeit a weak group.

Twenty-one days till the Belmont.