05/19/2011 1:19PM

Maryland Sprint at Pimlico an easier spot for Ventana


After futilely trying to beat the likes of Smiling Tiger and Amazombie in recent races at Santa Anita, Ventana gets a far easier spot. Trainer Bob Baffert has shipped him in to Pimlico, where he will accept his top weight package of 119 pounds in the Grade 3, $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap on Saturday.

It looks like a smart move. Ventana is the most accomplished horse in the six-furlong race, but he is winless in his last four starts. His last win was more than a year ago.

“He was running against some good horses,” Baffert said Thursday morning at Pimlico.

Ventana was not disgraced in those races. He finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Smiling Tiger in the San Carlos, then was third to Amazombie in the Potrero Grande.

Running Ventana also gives Baffert something to do before he sends out Midnight Interlude in the Preakness later in the day.

PREAKNESS STAKES 2011: Contenders, odds, video, and news updates

Among Ventana’s main rivals is Delong Road, who faded in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes two weeks ago on the Derby undercard but won three of his prior four starts, all at Oaklawn Park.

“He’s a six-furlong horse, not seven,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “He’ll keep things interesting.”

The regally bred Safety Check steps into stakes company following a sharp comeback victory in an allowance race at Belmont Park on May 1. A winner of two of his four starts, he is by Empire Maker, a Belmont Stakes winner, and is out of Safely Kept, the great sprint mare who last week was voted into the Hall of Fame.

The best local hope may be Nathan’s H Q, who comes off a sharp second to the talented Comedero in the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial at Delaware Park on May 7. Before that, he was a close third to Capt Candyman Can and Regal Ransom in a strong overnight stakes race at Gulfstream Park.