05/19/2011 12:01PM

Pimlico: Paddy O'Prado faces token opposition in Dixie

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BALTIMORE – A little later than his connections had hoped, Paddy O’Prado, an Eclipse finalist as North America’s leading 3-year-old of 2010, makes his 4-year-old debut in a rather soft renewal of the Grade 2, $200,000 Dixie Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico.

Paddy O’Prado is one of just two graded stakes winners entered for the Dixie, with the other, Grand Rapport, expected to scratch and run in an overnight race at Belmont Park on Sunday, according to his trainer, Gary Contessa. Eighttofasttocatch is also entered in Saturday’s $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Memorial here and would most likely only run in the Dixie in the event it comes off the turf.

Paddy O’Prado showed prowess on three surfaces last year, but truly excelled on the turf, where he won four graded events, including the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park. He did finish third in the Kentucky Derby and ended up fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, beaten only 5 1/2 lengths by Blame.

Trainer Dale Romans gave Paddy O’Prado the winter off with the intention of running him once in south Florida with the Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Derby Day the first objective. But the horse suffered a minor setback that forced Romans to back off.

“Nothing major, he was a little body sore, a little stiff when we first started and had to back off on him to give him a little time to come out of it,’’ Romans said. “When he did, he’s moved forward every day.’’

While Romans is using the Dixie as a prep for bigger and better things such as the $500,0000 Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs on June 18 and then the Arlington Million on Aug. 13, he does feel he has Paddy O’Prado ready to fire off the six-month layoff

“If he comes back to the way he was running last year, he’s going to be tough to beat,’’ Romans said.

Romans would prefer to bring Paddy O’Prado back on firm turf, but that is unlikely to happen given the amount of rain that has fallen in this area during the week.

“I would rather have it a little firm, but he’s run well on good ground,’’ Romans said.

Kent Desormeaux will ride Paddy O’Prado from post 4. Since this is a stakes and not a handicap, all horses are carrying 118 pounds.

Mike Maker said he believes that if Paddy O’Prado might ever be vulnerable, it could be in his first start back off the layoff, which is one reason why he has sent Baryshnikov here for the Dixie. Baryshnikov, a 5-year-old son of Empire Maker, has won five of his last six starts, including a good-looking 1 1/4 length victory in a classified turf allowance race at Keeneland on April 17.

“I thought it was a very good race,’’ Maker said. “He can take control of the race, he can stalk, he can come from behind. He’s a very easy horse to ride. He’s just gotten good, we’re thankful for that.’’

Slews Answer, a half-brother to the multiple Grade 2 winner Dynaslew, has won 2 of 3 starts for trainer Graham Motion and the Live Oak Plantation. He was entered in the same race that Grand Rapport scratched out on Thursday, but did not enter back in Grand Rapport’s race on Sunday.

“He’s a nice horse, but he’s only run three times, it’s going to be a lot to ask,’’ Motion said of facing Paddy O’Prado.

Pocket Patch and Lonely Whistle, the first-and third-place finishers, respectively, from the Henry Clark Stakes here on April 30, complete the field. The Dixie is the 11th race on the card, immediately preceding the Preakness, and is the third leg of an all-stakes pick four with a guaranteed pool of $1 million.