05/10/2004 11:00PM

Song Track looks ready to flower


BALTIMORE - Neil Howard always has thought a lot of Song Track, the 3-year-old filly he will send out Friday at Pimlico in the $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. But Song Track has not quite developed at the rate of the fillies who sit atop her division, so Howard didn't think twice about skipping the Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago.

"She's got a lot of quality," said Howard. "We thought this race at Pimlico, coming on the heels of the Oaks, gives you a chance to step up while ducking your Ashados, your Madcap Escapades, your Victory U. S. A.'s."

Song Track won her last race, an April 10 first-level allowance at Keeneland, by 7 1/2 lengths in an eye-opening performance that makes her one of the top contenders in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, the secondary feature on the Pimlico Special card on Friday.

In all, the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan drew eight fillies, and although none of them is to be confused with Ashado or some of the others who ran behind her in the Oaks, the race shapes up as competitive. Yearly Report, a winner in 3 of 4 starts, might be a slight favorite for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Jerry Bailey, with Song Track, Pawyne Princess, Rare Gift, and Menifeeque also deserving consideration.

The Black-Eyed Susan and Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special are the linchpins of a 12-race card that helps ignite a sensational weekend of racing here. Three other stakes will be run here Friday - the Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Distaff, the Grade 3, $100,000 Miss Preakness, and the $75,000 The Very One - and that's just the beginning.

An 11-race blockbuster Saturday card contains eight stakes, highlighted, of course, by the 129th Preakness. The Saturday stakes, with possible top contenders, are:

* $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup: Gators N Bears, Peeping Tom.

* $200,000 Argent Dixie: Senor Swinger, Wando.

* $100,000 Schaefer Handicap: Seattle Fitz, The Lady's Groom.

* $100,000 Gallorette Handicap: Film Maker, Ocean Drive, Lady Linda.

* $100,000 Sir Barton: Preachinatthebar, Capac.

* $100,000 Woodlawn: Timo, Paddington, Victory Light.

* $100,000 Hirsch Jacobs: Bwana Charlie, Redskin Warrior.

Entries for all Preakness Day races were to be drawn Wednesday.

Smarty Jones: A short price

Smarty Jones was a lukewarm 4-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but he won't be near that high a price on Saturday in the Preakness, according to Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form national handicapper.

Watchmaker said he probably will make Smarty Jones somewhere in the vicinity of 6-5, followed by Lion Heart as the second choice at 4-1 or 5-1, with Rock Hard Ten, The Cliff's Edge, and Eddington "not too far behind that."

"This is a very difficult line because you've got those four horses that have to take money, but you've also got a very popular favorite," Watchmaker said. "Smarty Jones has generated such a following - even when he gallops, 4,000 people show up. It will be interesting."

Frank Carulli, Pimlico oddsmaker, said he planned to make Smarty Jones 6-5 or 7-5.

Smarty Jones: The song

Dan Cummins, a Lexington, Ky.-based folk singer who worked in Baltimore pubs for nearly 25 years, has written and recorded a new song called "A Song for Smarty Jones." Cummins, 51, was scheduled to be in Philadelphia Tuesday and in Baltimore for the rest of Preakness week to promote interest in the 5-minute, 11-second release.

Cummins, a Philadelphia native, said the song was written "in the tradition of heroic Irish praise singing for horses." Cummins said he is friends with Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, "himself a former Irish folk singer."

Smarty Jones: No Derby alibi

Except for the Smarty Jones folks, owners and trainers with Preakness starters will be asked for their Derby excuses Thursday morning at the annual Alibi Breakfast, which starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Terrace Dining Room at Pimlico.

The Alibi Breakfast, with Chris Lincoln as host, also will honor writers Sean Clancy and Gary West; broadcaster Bruce Cunningham; photographer Jeff Snyder; and trainers Bud Delp and King Leatherbury.

Homecoming for Desormeaux

It has been 16 years since jockey Kent Desormeaux used his considerable popularity in Maryland to land his first Preakness mount, Finder's Choice. The lesser half of a Locust Hill Farm entry (with Private Terms), Finder's Choice finished ninth behind Risen Star in 1988.

Desormeaux, who left Maryland for Southern California in 1990, will have his ninth Preakness mount Saturday, riding Imperialism for trainer Kristin Mulhall. Desormeaux has one Preakness win (Real Quiet, 1998) and two seconds (Free House in 1997, and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000).

Tapit awaiting Belmont Stakes

Tapit, who won the Wood Memorial before finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, will bypass the Preakness and point for the final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 5 Belmont Stakes.

"He's sound, but was very tired after the [Derby]," said Michael Dickinson, who trains Tapit. "Every stride over that track was gooey and sticky. He lost a lot of weight, and he hasn't put it all back on,"

Still, Dickinson will be represented on Preakness Day by the 3-year-old Paddington, who is scheduled to run in the $100,000 Woodlawn Stakes on the turf.

Birdstone an observer, not a participant

Birdstone is part of the contingent trainer Nick Zito brought to Pimlico this week, but the 3-year-old colt will not run in the Preakness or any other race this weekend. Birdstone most recently finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, and is awaiting the Belmont, though he could run May 22 in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, Zito said.

"I just wanted to keep him with us," said Zito, who brought several horses here when he left Kentucky; the rest of his horses are in New York, at Belmont Park and Saratoga. "He came out of the Derby well."

Zito will have plenty of action from his 3-year-olds on Saturday. In addition to running Sir Shackleton and The Cliff's Edge in the Preakness, he will send out El Prado Rob in the Woodlawn Stakes on the turf, and Royal Assault in the Sir Barton Stakes.

"Royal Assault's definitely a Belmont horse," Zito said.

Zito also will run the 3-year-old filly Preach It in the $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes on Friday.

HRTV airing from Pimlico

Horse Racing TV, the television arm of Magna Entertainment, will telecast all week from Pimlico Race Course, site of the 129th Preakness.

This is the second straight year HRTV has telecast from Pimlico the week of the Preakness. HRTV is based at Santa Anita, one of the flagship racetracks of Magna.

HRTV's onsite personalities this week include co-hosts Laffit Pincay III and Jeff Siegel, along with reporter Millie Ball.

Servis, Elliott have high hopes on Friday, too

While all the attention surrounding John Servis and Stewart Elliott centers on Smarty Jones and Saturday's Preakness, the winning Kentucky Derby trainer and jockey hope to grab some attention Friday, too, when they team up in three stakes at Pimlico.

Servis will give a leg up to Stewart on Pilfer in the Grade 2, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan; Stephan's Angel in the Grade 3, $100,000 Miss Preakness; and Balmy in the $75,000 The Very One Handicap.

Pilfer, a daughter of Deputy Minister, has won 2 of 5 starts and is coming off a second-place finish in the Instant Racing Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn on April 10.

"That filly's got a lot of talent,'' Servis said. "She won an allowance race in February, and we couldn't get her in for months. She was second in a small stakes at a mile and the rider came back said, 'It's too short, she's got to go farther.' So we've been looking to stretch her out and this is a mile and an eighth.''

In the Miss Preakness, Stephan's Angel cuts back to six furlongs, a distance at which she is 3 for 3. Servis tried to stretch her out, and Stephan's Angel finished second in the Honeybee and seventh in the Grade 2 Fantasy.

"She's a whole lot better sprinting,'' Servis said.

Balmy, a daughter of Salt Lake, makes her turf debut in the The Very One. She has won a couple of minor stakes sprinting on dirt.

"I think she's going to love the five-eighths,'' Servis said. "They better have their running shoes on.''

- additional reporting by Jay Privman and David Grening