05/14/2010 12:00AM

Nicanor can fulfill high hopes in Dixie


BALTIMORE - On sentiment alone, there is reason to like Nicanor in the Dixie Stakes. Few things in racing evoke greater sentiment than thoughts of Nicanor's full brother Barbaro, whose breakdown in the Preakness four years ago ranks among the most powerful memories that many fans will ever have of a horse race.

But there are other less emotional reasons to like Nicanor in the Grade 2, $200,000 Dixie, the richest race on the Preakness undercard Saturday at Pimlico. The main reason is that Nicanor can run, as evidenced by impressive back-to-back victories last spring on the Delaware Park turf.

"I think he's a really good horse," said trainer Michael Matz. "We'll see Saturday if he can step up to this level. Obviously we'd love to put the Barbaro incident further in the past and have ourselves a good day Saturday at Pimlico."

Nicanor, now 4, is by Dynaformer out of the mare La Ville Rouge, the same parentage as 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who also was trained by Matz and was bred and owned by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson. Nicanor figures as one of a handful of contenders in the Dixie, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that drew a very well-matched field of 13 older horses.

On the strength of his Delaware wins, Nicanor was the morning-line favorite last July for the $750,000 Virginia Derby, but Matz had to scratch him after the colt incurred a hind-end injury that has since healed. In his comeback race, an April 8 turf allowance at Keeneland, Nicanor pressed the pace under Julien Leparoux before finishing fifth, beaten only a length by the winner.

"Julien came back and said the horse got tired in the last part of it," said Matz. Nicanor "came out of it really well, and I'm hoping he got a lot out of the race."

Nicanor will break from the outside post when ridden by Robby Albarado.

"That is a tough post, but there's nothing we can do about it," said Matz.

Besides Nicanor, the Dixie field includes a number of other proven turf runners, most notably Just as Well, a late-blooming 7-year-old who enjoyed easily the best season of his career in 2009, when he earned more than $900,000 in a demanding campaign that included a runner-up finish in the Dixie. Just as Well, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, will break from post 4 with Leparoux aboard.

Other potential players in the 109th Dixie include last-out winners Forgotten Dynasty, Picou, Baltimore Bob, and Rahystrada, along with Wesley, Grassy, and Strike a Deal.

The Dixie directly precedes the Preakness as the 11th of 13 races. Post time is 5:12 p.m. Eastern.

The Dixie was first run in 1870 when won by the horse named Preakness. It was discontinued on two occasions but has been run continuously since 1924.