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Updated on 09/17/2011 11:30AM
Four gradeds before the main event
BALTIMORE - Saturday's Pimlico card is a stakes bonanza, with seven stakes races, four of them graded, preceding the Preakness Stakes.
The best of the seven is the $200,000 Citgo Dixie, a Grade 2 race at 1 1/8 miles on turf that has attracted a field of 10, including such top-class runners as Blue Steller, Del Mar Show, and Sarafan.
Sarafan has shipped in from California for his first start of the year. He was beaten a nose in last year's Japan Cup, and has not raced since finishing a close fourth in the Hong Kong Cup on Dec. 15.
Del Mar Show, who was second in last year's Dixie, won a classified allowance race in his first start of the year on April 19 at Keeneland.
Blue Steller is from the deep pool of turf runners trained by Bobby Frankel. He was third in last year's Grade 1 Hirsch Memorial at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, and won his lone start this year, at Santa Anita.
The $100,000 Gallorette Handicap, a Grade 3 race for older female turf runners at 1 1/16 miles, will see the return of Riskaverse, who developed into one of the best of her division last year. Riskaverse has not competed since last year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, in which she finished seventh, beaten less than three lengths. She won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Keeneland before that.
The $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, a Grade 3 race at six furlongs, features local sprint star Crossing Point, who was second in last year's Fall Highweight Handicap. He most recently won the Panhandle Stakes at Mountaineer. Late-running Highway Prospector, 4 for 5 since moving to the barn of trainer Mark Shuman, will be making his first start since winning Gulfstream's Artax Handicap on April 5.
The other graded stakes is the Grade 3, $100,000 William Donald Schaefer at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. The veteran P Day, an 8-year-old who will be making his 50th career start, won the Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico on April 19. Windsor Castle, who won the Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream Park in January, is one of the primary challengers to P Day.
The three ungraded stakes are all for 3-year-olds. They are the $125,000 Woodlawn Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf, the $100,000 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes at six furlongs, and the $125,000 Sir Barton Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
The Sir Barton includes During, who floundered in the mud in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct but was an impressive winner in a Santa Anita allowance race before that. Hypnotist is the 122-pound highweight in the Woodlawn. He is trained by Barclay Tagg, who later in the day will send out the Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, in the Preakness. Only the Best and Mt. Carson share top weight of 122 pounds in the Hirsch Jacobs.
A homecoming for Lewis, too
Barclay Tagg won't be the only trainer returning home for Saturday's Preakness.
Lisa Lewis, who will saddle longshot Kissin Saint, was born in Hydes, Md., where her parents, Jim and Penny, owned a horse farm and were both trainers. Lisa Lewis, 34, went to high school at St. Timothy's, about five minutes from Pimlico. Lewis quit school the second week of her sophomore year to work at the track.
Lewis worked for both of her parents before taking a job with Jack Van Berg in California in 1987-88. In 1989, she took out her trainer's license, and in 1991, she trained the freaky-fast filly American Royale, who won that year's Adirondack and the 1992 Prioress Stakes.
Penny Lewis trained Hegar, who finished ninth in the 1993 Preakness. Before training on his own, Jim Lewis had horses with Maryland legend Buddy Delp, who is Lisa Lewis's godfather. Delp won the 1979 Preakness with Spectacular Bid.
Lisa Lewis, who has been a mainstay on the New York circuit for almost a decade, has run a few horses at Pimlico, but has never won a stakes. She said Wednesday that it is just hitting her that she is running a horse in her native state's biggest horse race.
"A lot of people have called me, and you start to realize that you're running a horse in the Preakness," Lewis said. "It would be something if we could pull it off, and what makes it more fun is we're going with a horse that I think has got a legitimate chance."
Lewis claimed Kissin Saint for $50,000 in January. Kissin Saint, a son of 1993 Belmont Stakes runner-up Kissin Kris, won his first two starts for Lewis before finishing third, beaten eight lengths, in the Wood Memorial behind Empire Maker and Funny Cide.
"I think he's a pretty versatile horse," Lewis said. "He certainly wants to make one run, but he's got enough early foot where he doesn't have to be 15 lengths out of it.
Sky Mesa close to returning
Much has been made of the absence from this year's Triple Crown of the three leading 2-year-olds from last year, Vindication, Toccet, and Sky Mesa, none of whom has even raced this year. Vindication and Toccet are still months away from competing, but Sky Mesa should be ready to go within three weeks, according to his trainer, John Ward Jr.
"He's doing super," Ward said Wednesday at Pimlico, one day after Sky Mesa had a seven-furlong workout of 1:28.60 at Keeneland.
Sky Mesa has not raced since winning last year's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. He was scheduled to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park, but was withdrawn on the eve of the race.
Ward hoped to get Sky Mesa back to the races in time to make the Kentucky Derby, but the colt had another setback earlier this year. Sky Mesa missed several weeks of training, but has been working steadily in recent weeks.
"It's like having a son who jumps from the top of the garage," Ward said. "He's always up to something."
Ward said Sky Mesa would be part of an eight-horse contingent he is sending next week to Belmont Park. Included in that group will be Hero's Tribute, who is scheduled to run in Friday's Pimlico Special, and the stakes-winning female turf runner Snow Dance.
Sky Mesa, according to Ward, "should run in something around the time of the Belmont Stakes," which is June 7. Ward said the main targets for Sky Mesa this summer would be the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Horseracing TV hits the road
Horseracing TV, the television network launched earlier this year by Magna Entertainment, is broadcasting on-site from Pimlico this week, in a first for the network.
Amy Zimmerman, the executive producer of Horseracing TV, said the production team has never traveled outside of California before the establishment of the Pimlico remote studio.
The marriage of Pimlico and Horseracing TV is a natural one, now that Magna is majority owner of Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park. Zimmerman said that plans are in the works to do on-site work at other Magna tracks, such as Lone Star Park in Texas and Golden Gate and Bay Meadows in northern California.
Most of Horseracing TV's 1.8 million customers are in Pennsylvania, where the network replaced a closed-circuit feed from state racetracks on local cable systems. In contrast, Television Games Network is available in 12 million households, including customers of DirecTV and the Dish Network.
Magna's account-wagering service, XpressBet, was licensed this week by regulators in Maryland.
Seabiscuit-War Admiral reenactment
Hoping to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the upcoming movie "Seabiscuit," Pimlico on Friday will restage the match race between Seabiscuit and Triple Crown winner War Admiral run at Pimlico in the summer of 1938.
Local jockey Walter Cullum will stand in for George Woolf, who rode Seabiscuit. Another local rider, Frank Douglas, will play War Admiral's jockey, Charley Kurtsinger.
Two retired Maryland horses, Grapeshot and Lord Roland, will play Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Both have markings that compare "very closely" with Seabiscuit and War Admiral, said Mike Gathagan, Pimlico's director of communications.
In the actual race Seabiscuit, who typically came from behind in his races, unexpectedly shot to the front and defeated War Admiral, who was known as a front-runner. According to Gathagan, a practice run held Tuesday was close to running of the historical race.
Friday's recreation, though, is still unpredictable. "Basically, you give the jocks the instructions, and you tell them to do the very best that they can," Gathagan said.
The movie "Seabiscuit," which is based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, opens July 25.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Matt Hegarty