Race Previews

Pimlico Special Preview: Pletcher Holds Strong Hand with Two Runners

Hedge Fund Winning the Grade 3 Essex Stakes at Oaklawn Park (Credit: Coady Photography)

The 48th running of the Pimlico Special has attracted a solid field of nine horses,  six of which are graded stakes winners, on a 14-race card on Friday, the day before the 143rd Preakness Stakes. The Pimlico Special will go off as race nine with a local post time of 3:43 PM ET.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Pimlico Special twice, with Revolutionary in 2014 and Commissioner in 2015. This year, he will take two shots with Hedge Fund and One Liner. The two colts share co-second place on the morning line at 7-2 and share the same owners: WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, and SF Racing.

Hedge Fund, by Pletcher’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, is seeking his first graded stakes win. He started 2018 strong with a win against Gulfstream Park allowance company before impressively taking the $300,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park. However, he struggled in his next race, hopping at the start in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and finishing 10th. Jockey Mike Smith will have the mount from post 5.

One Liner, meanwhile, will be making just his sixth career start. He went undefeated to begin his career, including an eye-catching victory in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but soon after, he was injured and sent to the farm for the remainder of the year. He struggled in his 2018 debut at Gulfstream Park, but he recently won an allowance race at Keeneland, which could signal that he is back in solid form. Luis Saez takes the mount and will break from post 2.

2018 Preakness Stakes Wagering Guide

The 3-1 favorite Irish War Cry will give it another shot for trainer Graham Motion after an up-and-down career. He continues to be a puzzle for handicappers and very frustrating at times for his trainer. The 4-year-old Curlin colt has raced twice this year at Gulfstream Park, finishing second in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes but struggling in the Grade 2 Hardacre Mile Stakes, which he exited with the thumps.

“We’ve cut back his Lasix dosage and I think that’s helped with the thumps, and I’m hoping getting out of Florida with the cooler weather – although it’s going to start getting warmer here in the next few weeks – certainly in the morning, the thumps have been very manageable,” Motion said. “I’ve been very happy with his works. I just gave him an easy 1/2 (mile) this weekend because I felt like he had three pretty good stamina works and I just wanted to freshen him up. It’d be hard to have a high confidence level off his last race. My feelings going into his first race this year were that he’d trained better than he did last year, and he’s a very good morning horse. He’s always been a good work horse. That’s not knocking how he was last year; to me, he’s an improved horse this year, and I just hope that he gets an opportunity to show that on Friday.”

The field from the rail out: Irish War Cry, One Liner, Rated R Superstar, Discreet Lover, Hedge Fund, Papa Zulu, Afleet Willy, Something Awesome, and Untrapped.

Top Choice

#2 One Liner – At one point last year, he was being discussed as a top Kentucky Derby contender after a strong start to his career and a runaway win in the Southwest. However, an injury forced him to miss the rest of the year. He came back with a lackluster effort in his 4-year-old debut, but he bounced back last time out with a win against allowance company at Keeneland. This will be his third race off of the layoff, which could mean that he’s ready for a peak effort. Pletcher wouldn’t spot him here unless he was confident that he will fire with a big race.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#5 Hedge Fund – It’s understandable that you wouldn’t have much confidence in him after a 10th-place effort in the Oaklawn Handicap last time out. That race was a disaster from the start, though, as he hopped out of the gate and lost his early positioning. He runs best when running close to the front, and he was far from that after his poor start. If he can get back to his Essex effort, then he will be awfully tough to beat in this spot. He gets the services of Smith, which is definitely a good thing because you can count on him getting this horse in a good position early. The pace could be hot, but you have to trust that the jockey will position him well and that the horse will bounce back from that poor showing.

#8 Something Awesome – He is the hot horse coming into this race off of three straight victories. Last time out was the biggest win of his career when he took home the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Stakes by a neck over War Story. The competition will be a little tougher here, but there is no question that he matches up with these horses from a speed figure standpoint. He has earned back-to-back triple-digit Beyers, which is something that no other horse in the field can say. He also has several solid races over a sloppy race track, which is likely to be what they will run across in this spot. He is a very logical win candidate.

Exotic Plays 

#9 Untrapped – You can always count on this horse to show up with a solid effort, having hit the board in 11 of 15 races. He has been facing solid company in all of those starts, as well, which speaks to his class. The problem is this: in those 15 lifetime races, he has only won twice. He was no worse than fourth in any of his four starts this year at Oaklawn Park , but was also not close to winning. He is the perfect underneath play.

#1 Irish War Cry – Who knows what to ever do with this horse? He is a roller-coaster; the ups and downs of his career have been absolutely mind-numbing. Especially for me, whom this horse has fooled his entire career. He was pathetic last time out, but apparently he had what is called “the thumps.” The problem is that there always seems to be some sort of excuse or thing happening to him. Maybe he will win, but I’m personally done ever considering him as a top pick. We’ll see if he shows up.

#3 Rated R Superstar – He is always good for a flashy performance in spots. One of those nice efforts was last time out when he won the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland by 2 lengths. He was able to run down a loose-on-the-lead horse in that effort and should like going this distance. The pace has a shot to set up well for him, and it is important to note that he has several solid efforts over a sloppy track. With lots of rain in the forecast, that could end up being very important.

Party Crashers

#7 Afleet Willy – This horse loves Laurel Park, as over half of his lifetime wins came there, so perhaps he can transfer that local form over to Pimlico. After two stakes wins at Laurel, he tried the Charles Town Classic last time out and finished a decent fourth after setting the early pace. You can expect him to be up on the pace again here, as that is the tactic that he must use in order to have a shot. If he gets loose on the lead, he could be dangerous, and the price will be right if you are looking for a longshot.

Throw Outs

#4 Discreet Lover – Two races back, he was impressive when winning the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct, but he struggled to a sixth-place finish in the Charles Town Classic last time out. He can be tough to beat in smaller stakes, but when the waters have gotten deeper, he has struggled. From a class standpoint, he just might be a cut below compred to the top horses in this group.

#6 Papa Zulu – He comes into this race off of a victory, but it came against allowance company at Parx. The competition will be much tougher here, and from a speed figure standpoint, he doesn’t match up with many of these.

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