05/16/2012 12:40PM

Pimlico Special revived and pumped up

Barbara D. Livingston
Alternation, training at Pimlico on Tuesday with Luis Quinonez up, comes off a victory in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap.

BALTIMORE – Trainer Graham Motion thought by choosing to run his Grade 1 winner Toby’s Corner in Friday’s reincarnated Pimlico Special he might be ducking some of the better horses in the handicap division.

Problem is, there appears to be so much depth to the division this year, that the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special – being run for the first time since 2008 – came up just as tough as any Grade 1 race that will be run later in the year.

[PIMLICO FRIDAY: Watch live – Black-Eyed Susan, Pimlico Special]

Of the nine horses expected to run – Cease was an early scratch – Alternation, Hymn Book, Endorsement, and Yawanna Twist have combined to win six graded events this year. Mission Impazible was a Grade 2 winner last year and Nehro was the Kentucky Derby runner-up a year ago.

“I pointed him for this race because I thought we could duck the heavy heads at Churchill, and this race came up just as tough,” said Motion.

Alternation, trained by Donnie Von Hemel, went 3 for 3 at Oaklawn this winter, including a front-running score in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap. He lost his last three starts as a 3-year-old.

Von Hemel credits his colt’s turnaround to the addition of blinkers, which he first put on Alternation for the first time last October, when he was beaten just a head by Redeemed in the Oklahoma Derby.

“I think he’s developed a little versatility,” said Von Hemel, who trains Alternation for Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stable. “The blinkers probably put him up in the race a little more when we started with them last fall.”

In the Oaklawn Handicap, Alternation took advantage of a paceless race to beat Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek by 2 1/2 lengths. Also in that race were Yawanna Twist (third), Hymn Book (fourth), and Nehro (sixth), all of whom are back in here.

With Eighttofasttocatch, Endorsement, and Cherokee Artist in the field, there appears to more speed in the Pimlico Special than there was at Oaklawn. Von Hemel doesn’t seem concerned.

“I think we drew a great post, have a nice run to the turn to look things over and assess it,” said Von Hemel, whose horse will break from post 9 under Luis Quinonez. “He’s a top horse, and I think you’ll see that bear out over the course of the year.”

Hymn Book, Mission Impazible, and Toby’s Corner would also benefit from a lively pace.

Hymn Book defeated Mission Impazible by a nose in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February before finishing fourth in the Oaklawn Handicap, while Mission Impazible came back to finish a well-beaten second behind loose-on-the lead Nates Mineshaft in the New Orleans Handicap.

Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Hymn Book, said his horse had an “off day” at Oaklawn, while Alternation benefitted from pace scenario and track condition.

“The track was pretty speed-favoring, and he got on a pretty easy lead,” McGaughey said. “Our horse didn’t run that bad, only got beat [3 3/4] lengths.”

Mission Impazible, the 2010 New Orleans Handicap winner, has finished second seven times, five in graded stakes.

“Last time we ran into a horse that was really in tune with the track and ran a super-fast race on a speed-favoring track and we were second-best on the day,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Mission Impazbile.

Toby’s Corner, who won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at 3, finished behind Mission Impazible in the New Orleans. Motion, like Pletcher, also felt the speed-favoring nature of the Fair Grounds on the day compromised his horse’s chances.

“He didn’t run a bad race,” Motion said. “Obviously, it was a little disappointing. I feel like he’s doing great. I feel very good about running him there.”

The Pimlico Special will be race 12 on a 13-race program that begins at noon eastern. It is one of seven stakes on the program and is the first leg of a Pimlico Special/Preakness daily double that can be played for $1 minimum.

It is the final leg of a pick four that begins with race that will have a $200,000 guaranteed pool.

There is a Ladies Day theme to the card, with one race where the horses will be ridden by all retired female jockeys and a three-race jockey challenge for current female riders.

Pimlico Special (G3), Post Time: 5:51 ET Friday

Purse: $300,000; 1 3/16 miles





ML Odds


Toby's Corner

H. Motion

E. Castro




E. Harty

M. Garcia



Hymn Book

C. McGaughey, III

J. Velazquez



Cherokee Artist

J. Robb

V. Santiago




S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani



Mission Impazible

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano



Yawanna Twist

J. Parisella

M. Luzzi




D. Von Hemel

L. Quinonez




T. Keefe

S. Russell