05/17/2017 12:36PM

Shaman Ghost tops strong field in Pimlico Special

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shaman Ghost and Javier Castellano will try to add the Pimlico Special to their victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.

BALTIMORE – To get an idea of how strong this year’s Grade 3 Pimlico Special came up, consider this: Noble Bird won this race last year by 11 1/4 lengths as the 4-5 favorite. Though he is entered back in Friday’s 47th renewal of the Pimlico Special, his connections aren’t even certain to run him.

“It’s a hell of a race this year,” said Mark Casse, the trainer of Noble Bird. “We’re still thinking of whether we’re going to run.”

The Pimlico Special, a Grade 3 race worth $300,000, drew a field of 10 led by Shaman Ghost, the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in his most recent start and the runner-up to the mighty Arrogate in the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup. Add in Watershed and Eagle, the one-two finishers in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland, and Dolphus, the half-brother to champion Rachel Alexandra, and you have a pretty salty race. The Pimlico Special will be run at 2:39 p.m. Eastern on Pimlico’s 14-race Black-Eyed Susan card.

The Pimlico Special, at 1 3/16 miles, comes 69 days after Shaman Ghost won the Santa Anita Handicap. He won the Grade 1 Woodward last September off a 55-day layoff.

“The fact he’s willing in the morning makes you feel good,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Shaman Ghost for Frank Stronach. “He’s run well off of works in the past, so it’s no big deal. Some horses don’t; they get stale.”

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Following the Santa Anita Handicap, there was no set plan for Shaman Ghost, yet Jerkens kept the horse training right along. He has breezed seven times since then, including a three-furlong blowout in 37 seconds on Wednesday at Belmont Park.

Jerkens also runs Dolphus, a half-brother to 2009 Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra by 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky. He is coming off an allowance win going a mile April 23 at Aqueduct.

Shaman Ghost will carry 124 pounds under Javier Castellano from post 6, conceding four pounds to Watershed and six to the rest of the field.

Watershed, a son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini, enters the Pimlico Special off a 2 3/4-length victory in the Ben Ali on April 15. That was part of a four-win afternoon at Keeneland for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin Stable.

“He was doing great going into that and ran huge,” said McLaughlin, who won this race in 2006 with Invasor. “He couldn’t be doing any better. He’s maybe better now, but it’s a tougher race. We’re live – we’re one of the top four choices, in my opinion – but both of Jimmy Jerkens horses look good.”

Eagle, who won the Ben Ali in 2016, comes off a second-place finish to Watershed in this year’s Ben Ali, Eagle’s third start of the year.

“I thought it was a good race,” trainer Neil Howard said. “His first two races back off a layoff weren’t bad. Sometimes it takes a couple of outs to get the rust off. We thought the race was good, and he’s trained good since.”

Eagle would benefit from a fast pace. Noble Bird will provide some of that speed. Dolphus, Discreet Lover, and maybe Conquest Windycity also could be forwardly placed.

Completing the field are Name Changer, making his 4-year-old debut; Bodhisattva, fourth in the Charles Town Classic last out; and Fellowship, eighth in last year’s Preakness.

The Pimlico Special kicks off an all-stakes pick-five wager that will have a guaranteed pool of $300,000.

KEY CONTENDERS

Shaman Ghost, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 108-112-102

◗ After running in four straight Grade 1 races, he finds some class relief in this spot.

◗ He has had ample time to recover from the trip to California and his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 11.

◗ Should get sufficient pace, allowing him to sit back and come with a late run.

Eagle, by Candy Ride

Last 3 Beyers: 92-92-91

◗ Was widest of all when trying to chase down Watershed in the Ben Ali last out.

◗ Could be sitting on his best race and should handle the added distance.

◗ In a bit of a rarity, John Velazquez rides for Howard. Over the past two decades, the two are 5 for 27 together but haven’t teamed up to win a graded stakes since April 2010 in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile with Lou Brissie.

Watershed, by Bernardini

Last 3 Beyers; 97-97-94

◗ Reeled in Bird Song in deep stretch to take the Ben Ali for his first stakes victory. Bird Song came back to win the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs on May 5.