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BALTIMORE – Loooch Racing Stables and Glenn Ellis’ Double Entendre got her first look at Pimlico Race Course’s main track Tuesday morning with an easy jog in preparation for Friday’s 92nd running of the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2).
Trained by Gulfstream Park-based Peter Walder, the 3-year-old bay daughter of American Lion stretched her legs after walking the shedrow following her arriving from South Florida on Monday.
“She jogged the racetrack today,” Walder, scheduled to be in Baltimore late Tuesday afternoon, said by phone. “The guy that got on her today said she just kind of floated around there. He said she felt like she never even hit the ground, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
Stabled in Barn A behind the Preakness Stakes Barn, Double Entendre will school in the starting gate Wednesday morning and tour the paddock on Thursday, Walder said. The 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan will be just her third start and first since a fifth-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) April 2.
“Timing-wise we thought this was the right race,” Walder said. “She wasn’t exactly great in the gate last time and we’ve done a lot of gate schooling with her which has helped tremendously. I thought she ran a very creditable race for her second lifetime start. Obviously, she’s got some talent. She’s got a great post position Friday, eight out of 14. Hopefully she comes out of there and is forwardly placed and can sit a dream trip.”
Purchased privately by Ron Paolucci following her maiden victory Feb. 29 at Sam Houston, Double Entendre was also making her first start for Walder in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She has breezed four times since then at Gulfstream.
“I didn’t know what to expect last time, having just gotten her and not having a whole lot of time with her. I really wanted more time with her but I didn’t get it unfortunately,” Walder said. “She’s a nice filly and I think she definitely has some talent. Hopefully we get a shot to show some of it on Friday.”
Walder has one career win at Pimlico, with 7-year-old gelding Taint So in a six-furlong claiming race May 29, 2008 with Rosie Napravnik aboard, but he is no stranger to Old Hilltop.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but it’s not like I’m a newbie,” he said. “I’ve gone to numerous Preaknesses. I love the Preakness. I think it’s the best one of the Triple Crown races. Maryland, they do a great job there. It’s fun, they take care of the horsemen, and it’s a great experience all around. I’m looking forward to it.”
Another Black-Eyed Susan contender, Grade 1-placed Right There breezed four furlongs in 53 seconds over Pimlico’s main track Tuesday morning for trainer Keith Desourmeaux, who arrived from California Monday evening and was on hand for the work.
Page McKenney, the local favorite for Friday’s $300,000 Sagamore Spirit Pimlico Special (G3), ranks as one of the great claims ever. Haltered for $16,000 almost three years ago, the gelding now has made $1.4 million while winning 15 races and nine stakes for owners Adam Staple of Las Vegas and Jalin Stable.
Page McKenney is only 6, but Staple hopes the gelding runs as long as the 10-year-old Mid-Atlantic turf-sprint legend Ben’s Cat, who competes in Friday’s $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint.
“People talk about the greatest claims ever,” Staple said, adding of $5.26 million-earner Lava Man, “certainly Lava Man is probably the best, but he was pretty expensive still, at $50,000 for a claim. You start getting into the $16,000 category, maybe we’re right up there. We joke about if we could get a great race named after us, how he’d be remembered. That would be the special thing out of it, because nobody is kidding themselves here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. We’re just trying to enjoy it as long as we can and do right by the horse. If he tells us one day it’s time to stop, we’re all going to be so immensely appreciative for everything that’s happened.”
After starting his career 0 for 12, Page McKenney finally won a $16,000 maiden-claiming race on turf at Virginia’s Colonial Downs. A month later, Staple and his Maryland trainer, Mary Eppler, took him off breeders James Bryant and Linda Davis out of a non-winners of two $16,000 claiming race.
“Mary had seen this horse train,” said Staple, who later sold part-interest in Page McKenney back to Bryant and Davis’ Jalin Stable. “She thought with a 3-year-old, maybe there’s some things we can tweak that might suit him. I’ve had a little background in pedigree analysis, that’s what I used to do before I moved out to Las Vegas. I worked at Signature Stallions in Florida, doing pedigrees. It turned out there was a little quality in the family, and we thought there was some room to upgrade. Believe me, we weren’t looking at a stakes horse. We were just thinking, ‘Pennsylvania-bred. If we could get to the allowance level at Penn or Parx, we thought there’d be some great opportunities there. That’s all we sought out of this.
“He never stopped going forward. It was just crazy for us,” he added. “He was not the one anybody ever expected to be the special horse. He is average looking, average size. But that’s where you talk about the heart. You just never know.”
Page McKenney, a son of the Kingmambo stallion Eavesdropper, won
Laurel’s Feb. 15 General George (G3) for his first graded triumph. In his last start, Page McKenney was second in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (G2) won by Pimlico Special entrant Stanford.
Dating back more than two years, he’s never been worse than third in 24 starts. Page McKenney was third in last year’s Charles Town Classic, then was second in the Pimlico Special. Having moved up a notch at Charles Town, Staple hopes his horse can move up another step in this Pimlico Special.
“I’m not thrilled to see Stanford in there, but to see Noble Bird (eighth in the Alysheba (G2) May 6) back in that quickly, you know they’re not in there just to mess around,” Staple said. “I see it as a lot more challenge for Stanford this time around. At Charles Town, he had everything his way, and we really were the only ones who pushed him at all. I feel this time, if he has a little bit more of a threat on the front end, it kind of sets up well for us.
“You can’t tire this horse out. Everyone is texting me back there, saying he’s just bouncing off the walls, happy as can be. He knows when he does well and is really proud of himself.”
Staple reflected on what it would mean to win a race like the Pimlico Special, whose history includes the 1938 match race won by Seabiscuit over 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral.
“I’m a New Yorker, originally, I really have no great ties to the Mid-Atlantic area, but the true horsemen come from that area. The pure, real, hard-core trainers, there aren’t many places around the country to meet people like that,” he said. “That’s what makes Mary so special, she’s been there since the 1970s. That race was bigger years ago, when Cigar won it and all that, but the locals that went in there never had a chance. They were coming from all over the country to run in that race, and still do to some extent. But what that would mean for a local horse, a local trainer, that’s the honor for me, what that would mean for everybody.”
Staple left the Florida stallion business to move to Las Vegas, ultimately becoming a poker dealer. Thanks in part to Page McKenney, he left the card-dealing business to manage his racing stable full-time. But he’s doubling-down in the Pimlico Special, also running another former claim in Golden Glint, a Laurel allowance winner in his last start.
“Third place is still better than winning an allowance race at Delaware or Parx,” he said. “It’s better than running better for second money at Monmouth in a $75,000 race.”
Emotions will be running high for trainer Ignacio Correas IV when he brings Idolo Porteno to the Pimlico paddock Friday for the $300,000 Sagamore Racing Pimlico Special (G3).
Correas, 56, will be celebrating a homecoming. He spent almost six years as a trainer at Maryland’s Sagamore Farm. In 2009, Sagamore owner Kevin Plank hired Correas to break and train babies, and the trainer stayed until 2015, when he started a public stable in Kentucky.
Of course, Correas said, his connections to both Sagamore and Pimlico remain strong.
“Mr. Plank gave me the biggest opportunity that I had since I came to the States,” said Correas, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Some emotional attachment always will be with Sagamore. They gave me the opportunity. He was always very kind to me. Sagamore Farm means a lot to be in my life.”
Correas said he’ll be reuniting with many racetrack friends. “We’re looking forward to seeing each other,” he said. “People in the racing office. guys at the track, the starting gate. I spent almost six years (at Pimlico), so I know a lot of people. And it’s good to come back. It’s really good.”
Correas happens to be bringin an Argentine-bred horse to the Pimlico Special. Late in 2014, Idolo Porteno won two mile-and-a-half Group 1 races – one on dirt and the other on turf – in his native country. Those were the last two victories for Idolo Porteno, now 6 years old. In 2015, he finished out of the money in his only two starts, both in Argentina.
Making his U.S. debut this year, in his first start under Correas, Idolo Porteno finished third, 1 ½ lengths behind winner Upstart, in the Razorback (G3) on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Idolo Porteno comes into the Pimlico Special off an eighth-place finish on turf, 18 lengths behind winner Da Big Hoss, in the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland.
Correas said he has no explanation for that performance. “I don’t know what it was,” he said, “but it wasn’t the horse that we saw every day. He had a bad day, and that was it. Because everything that we did after, from checking him, from drawing blood, everything was perfect. I’m in good shape. Outstanding. We’ve been galloping and breezing.
“We made a few adjustments, things we thought we could do better,” he added, “but essentially, tracks are completely different here from Argentina. The race that he won on the grass, his big race on the grass, is a mile and a half, one turn. And it was on soft ground. Back on the dirt, he won a Grade 1 around two turns. And he won at a mile, a very good allowance, in 1:33 (4-5) on the dirt.
“I’ve only had this horse for four months, five months. He’s still adapting himself to America. We are trying to get to know him better. But I think that he should run a good race.”
Also on Friday, Correas will be running La Piba in the Hilltop, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a good day for me,” he said. “They’re both doing very good. I’m really looking forward to it. If I get to win the Pimlico Special sponsored by Sagamore Racing, it’ll be more than an honor.”
Following an uneventful van ride from Kentucky which landed them in Baltimore around 4:45 a.m. Tuesday, trainer Mark Casse’s 11-horse contingent had a quiet morning as they settled into Barn D which also houses Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Preakness Stakes (G1) favorite Nyquist.
“We just walked them, checked everybody’s temperature and made sure everybody was happy. So far, so good. “They all seem pretty anxious to get their food and start eating,” Norm Casse, son and assistant to his father, said. “They’ll all go out tomorrow morning. Usually a day after shipping we’ll do shorter than a routine gallop. They’ll probably just gallop a mile. Most of these horses are really well-behaved so there’s not a lot of paddock schooling or gate schooling.”
In addition to multiple graded stakes-placed Fellowship, who will challenge Nyquist in the Preakness, Team Casse has horses for eight other stakes over the weekend, including Noble Bird in the Pimlico Special; Za Aproval and Conquest Typhoon in the $250,000 Longines Dixie (G2); Josdesanimaux, Mississippi Delta and Ol’ Fashion Gal in the Gallorette (G3), R Girls A Charmer in the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) and Theogeny in the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3).
“Actually it’s a lot better than bringing one horse,” Casse said. “If you’re just in the Preakness, you sit around all day just nervous, whereas here we’re going to be running boom, boom, boom. It will be a really fun day actually. We’re just really excited to be at Pimlico and participating in a big couple days.”
Inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame last month, Mark Casse earned his 2,000th career victory May 14 at Gulfstream Park where he is keeping a string of horses this summer for the first time. He also has divisions in Kentucky and New York as well as his original base at Woodbine in Ontario.
“What’s crazy about it is I had just started working for dad when he got 1,000 and I was there when they did the ceremony for that. He was like, ‘Oh, we’ll never see 2,000.’ We saw 2,000 in less than eight years,” Norm Casse said. “It’s just kind of a testament to the way the barn is now. We’re running multiple horses every day everywhere. It’s grown up a whole lot. It used to be just Woodbine, now we’re everywhere.”
Pimlico Race Course
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