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Ah Day, Ravalo finally face each other
BALTIMORE - With 21 wins, including 14 stakes, and earnings of $1.2 million between them, Ah Day and Ravalo have been the two dominant Maryland-based sprinters the last couple of years. Surprisingly, they will meet for the first time when they head an eight-horse field entered in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap at six furlongs.
One of seven stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico, the Maryland Sprint goes as race 10 on a 12-race card.
"We're a barn apart, we train almost at the same time every day," said Donald Barr, trainer of the Laurel Park-based Ravalo. "I like [Ah Day] a lot. He's a nice horse. It's going to be a pretty good battle."
Ravalo, who is 10 for 23, comes off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Commonwealth at Keeneland. Barr said he believes the seven furlongs of that race was a tad too far. This race is at six furlongs, a distance at which Ravalo is 8 for 16. Ravalo figures to get a good stalking trip under John Velazquez from post 8.
"I don't have to be on the lead, but he likes it better when he's up close," Barr said. "I won't have any excuses, let's put it that way. If I lose, I just got beat."
Ah Day, who is 11 for 26 with seven stakes wins, came off a seven-month layoff to win the Grade 3 Toboggan at Aqueduct. After a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Carter, Ah Day tried the Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles. He basically ran for six furlongs before fading to ninth.
"I was greatly disappointed in his last race. He didn't run a lick," trainer King Leatherbury said. "Now he's coming into this race as good as ever. I expect a top effort from him."
Silver Edition, second in the Hirsch Jacobs over this track last year, and Torpedo Run, a winner of three straight for owner Frank Stronach and trainer Gary Capuano, are the other top contenders in the field.
Galllorette: Dynaforce stands out on class
Dynaforce was good enough to win a Grade 1 race last year, finish second in another, and then compete in the Breeders' Cup. Pretty heady stuff. But she has not run for quite a while, so for her 2009 debut, trainer Bill Mott said he wanted to ease her back.
"I wasn't looking for that tough a spot off the bat," Mott said Thursday morning.
Mission accomplished. Mott will send Dynaforce to Pimlico, where she should be an overwhelming favorite in the Grade 3, $100,000 Gallorette Handicap (race 7), which drew a fairly pedestrian field of older female grass runners, save for the favorite.
Dynaforce is top class. She won the Flower Bowl Handicap, a Grade 1 grass race, was second to champion Forever Together in the Grade 1 Diana, and was eighth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf after running into a roadblock at midstretch. That was her last start.
Mott said he thought the 1 1/16-mile Gallorette was a "good race to get her started" before moving on to next month's New York Handicap at Belmont Park. "She's not cranked up all the way," Mott said.
On sheer ability, Dynaforce stands out. And her cause may be aided by the predicted wet weather. Her two best races last year were on good and yielding turf.
"She does fairly well on soft ground," Mott said.
There's no obvious second choice in the Gallorette. All Is Vanity figures to move forward off her first start of the year, a third-place finish in the South Beach Stakes at Gulfstream. Social Queen was third in the Beaugay at Belmont Park two weeks ago. Royalties, making her first start of the year, is 2 for 2 at Pimlico and won an allowance race here off a layoff last year.
- Jay Privman
DuPont: Skylighter tries to rebound
After bombing as the 3-5 favorite in a third-level allowance race at Gulfstream in February, Skylighter seeks redemption when she runs in a soft renewal of the Grade 2, $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff (race 2).
Skylighter was part of a coupled entry along with Sea Chanter in the DuPont. Sea Chanter is expected to scratch and run in Saturday's Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont instead, according to Jim Bell, president of Darley Stable USA.
Skylighter got good last fall, reeling off three consecutive victories, including a three-length score in the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks. She ended her 3-year-old season with a second-place finish in the Falls City at Churchill Downs. In her 4-year-old debut, Skylighter was a bad fourth in a third-level allowance at Gulfstream.
"I don't think she was doing well in Florida," trainer Bobby Frankel said.
If her bullet six-furlong work in 1:12 on Sunday is any indication, Skylighter appears to be doing better heading into the DuPont.
Striking Tomisue defeated Skylighter in that aforementioned allowance race, which she used as a stepping-stone to a stakes victory at Tampa Bay Downs. She comes off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Rampart at Gulfstream. Striking Tomisue is also cross-entered in the Shuvee, and it was unclear Thursday morning in which race she would run.
Unforgotten could be a threat on dry footing for trainer Dallas Stewart. Tammy's Victress, Two Columbus, and All Smiles complete the field.
- David Grening
Schaefer: Ready Set needs pace help
Ready Set looks good enough to win the Grade 3, $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Stakes (race 4), but to get by, he needs a little help from his rivals.
Last year at age 3, Ready Set won the West Virginia Derby, lost the Pegasus Stakes by a nose, and was third in the Discovery Handicap. Clearly, Ready Set has ability, but what he does not have is speed. Ready Set runs best rallying into a legitimate early pace, but that might not be the trip Ready Set gets in the Schaefer, a 1o1/16-mile dirt race.
Drawn on the fence, Cave's Valley has a touch of route speed - but only a touch. Crimson Comic won pressing a decent pace three starts ago, but presses and stalks as readily as he leads. In the end, Ready Set, the likely favorite for trainer Mike Matz and jockey Julien Leparoux, might wind up closing into a slow pace, a demanding task.
The same sort of trip could bedevil Richard's Kid, who won the John Campbell at Laurel three starts ago, and runs even later than Ready Set. Chilean stakes winner Real Merchant has yet to win in four U.S. starts. The 5-year-old Ea finished in front of multiple Grade 1 winner Commentator last out, but that was in the Charles Town Classic on a bullring-style racetrack. No Advantage finished fifth in the Charles Town race, and has been more successful as a late-running sprinter than as a route horse.
- Marcus Hersh
Woodlawn: Affirmatif steps up to stakes
As first impressions go, Affirmatif made quite a splash. He ran away to a nine-length debut win on the turf at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 28, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, and immediate inclusion on anyone's horses to watch list. But in his second start last month at Keeneland, he finished second as the odds-on favorite in a first-level allowance race.
Despite that setback, Affirmatif is headed to stakes competition. Affirmatif will make his stakes debut in the $50,000 Woodlawn Stakes (race 9), an intermediate step before the more significant 3-year-old grass races trainer Todd Pletcher hopes to run him in this summer.
"He's got a great deal of talent, but he's a big baby at heart," Pletcher said Thursday morning. "He obviously has a lot of promise. Hopefully he's come on some since his last race and will show more professionalism this time."
Pletcher said he thought Affirmatif "showed some immaturity" in the allowance race at Keeneland. "He's still putting it all together," Pletcher said.
A couple of minor stakes winners should be the main challengers to Affirmatif in the one-mile Woodlawn. Colonel Rutledge won the Ellis Park Juvenile last summer following a win on turf there. In his first start this year, Colonel Rutledge was fourth in a sprint stakes at Charles Town.
Mr. Keeper won the Oliver's Twist at Laurel last fall. This is his first start of the year, and his first around two turns, but he has never finished out of the money.
Beacon Hill Road, third in the Dania Beach at Gulfstream, also should be a major player.
- Jay Privman