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BALTIMORE, MD – The 4-year-old Whitmore had the look of the best sprinter in the Midwest while running at Oaklawn Park this winter and spring. Now, he can make the case as the best sprinter in America when he takes on the accomplished A.P. Indian in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
His Churchill Downs-based trainer Ron Moquett was torn between running Whitmore on Saturday’s undercard of the 142nd Preakness Stakes or keeping to the original plan, the Grade 2 Truth North on June 9 at Belmont Park.
However, his exercise rider – Moquett’s wife, Laura – said that the horse needed to run ASAP. Signaling his readiness, Whitmore worked in :46.40 for a 1/2-mile under former jockey Greta Kunzweiler on Sunday at Churchill, the fastest of 59 workouts at the distance. That was his “easy” 1/2-mile.
“I’d say, in reality, the work was like a 47 and (4/5), but the time doesn’t matter,” Moquett said on Monday at Churchill. “It’s the fact that he comes out of the stall in the afternoon after doing that kind of work and is bucking and kicking — all those things that horse trainers like to see and hold their breath when it happens. He’s so ‘ripe’ that it’s time to run.”
Whitmore has shown that there’s life after the Kentucky Derby, the site of his last defeat five races back when he finished 19th of 20 in 2016. Getting seven months off, the son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect started his current four-race streak with a second-level allowance race in New York. In Arkansas, Whitmore won a 6-furlong allowance in 1:08.81 to miss the track record by .01 of a second, followed that up by taking the Hot Springs Stakes by 6 lengths, then captured the Grade 3 Count Fleet by 3 3/4 lengths. He’s now undefeated in six tries at either 6 or 6 1/2 furlongs.
“I’m partial, but I would say he is (the best sprinter),” Moquett said. “And a lot of people I respect, if I didn’t say so, they would tell me. I’ve never been in the position to where someone has come up to me and said, ‘That might be the most impressive race I’ve seen at Oaklawn.’”
Whitmore was no bad horse racing around two turns, finishing second in both the Grade 3 Southwest and the Grade 2 Rebel and third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby to earn his Kentucky Derby shot.
“We’re trying to develop him into the horse that can make the most money,” Moquett said. “As a 3-year-old, you have no shot to make good money as a sprinter. They were beating me up on the radio (about running Whitmore long last year). He only made $463,000 in six starts. It’s not like he didn’t run well.
“I didn’t like the way he came out of the Kentucky Derby, stiff everywhere. That’s one of the reasons I’ve kept him short,” he added. “Obviously he’s good at it. But the other reason is it’s so easy on him. He comes back and has caught his breath before he gets to the test barn. When he runs a mile and an eighth, he’s still finishing strong but he was tired. It’s taxing on him.”
Ricardo Santana, Jr., has the mount on Whitmore, who will van to Baltimore on Tuesday. Joining him will be two Moquett-trained fillies who are scheduled to run on Friday: Our Majesty, entered in the Grade 3, $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness, and Torrent, scheduled for the Grade 2, $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan.
By mid-morning on Monday, the Mark Casse-trained contingent of stakes horses – led by Preakness contender Classic Empire – had settled into Barn D at Pimlico Race Course following a 4 a.m. arrival.
The Casse crew consists of horses running in six of the 15 stakes to be contested on Preakness weekend, five of them as part of Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day program. They include Summer Luck and Corporate Queen, both of whom are entered in the featured event for 3-year-old fillies.
Also entered Friday are defending champion Noble Bird in the Grade 3, $300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special and Grade 1 winners Pretty City Dancer in the Miss Preakness and Victory to Victory in the $100,000 Hilltop. Joining Classic Empire on Saturday’s Preakness undercard will be World Approval and possibly Conquest Typhoon in the Grade 2, $250,000 Longines Dixie.
“Today, they’ll just settle,” said assistant trainer Norm Casse. “They’ve already walked this morning, just like you would if you were traveling. You want to move around, then we’ll come back and we’ll get them out at feed time again and walk them. It’s perfect. It’s a nice little travel day where they settle in.
“Basically, right now, you want to look and see how they’re acclimating. All the horses seem to be really happy and they’re in their feed tubs already, so obviously, the ship didn’t take anything out of them.”
Casse said it will be an easy week for his group as they put the final touches on their weekend preparations, having finished the serious groundwork before leaving Churchill Downs for Pimlico.
“They’ll just have routine gallops, nothing fancy,” he said. “All the hard work’s done now up to the races. Probably the one I’m most excited about is Victory to Victory for the Hilltop. She’s coming out of an allowance race, but she’s already a Grade 1 winner. We’re putting her back in stakes company and she’s been training really well. That’s probably the most exciting prospect.”
Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc., Tom Fitzgerald, and Geoff Roy’s multiple stakes winner Three Rules was expected to arrive Monday afternoon at Pimlico for his next engagement, Saturday’s $200,000 Chick Lang for 3-year-olds.
Gulfstream Park-based trainer Jose Pinchin said that Three Rules left South Florida early Monday morning for the 15 1/2-hour van ride to Baltimore. It’s only the second time that the Florida-bred colt has left his home state after running sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile following a cross-country ship last fall.
“That was having to go all the way to California, so this will be a lot easier on him,” Pinchin said. “He will be there this afternoon.”
Pinchin will join his stable star on Wednesday. He said that Three Rules will walk after his arrival on Monday and go to the track in the days leading up to the Chick Lang.
“He’ll jog tomorrow morning and probably gallop Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and that’ll be it,” Pinchin said.
The 6-furlong Chick Lang will mark a return to sprinting for Three Rules after running third in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 and fifth in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1.
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Chadds Ford Stable’s Dancing Rags has trainer Graham Motion feeling optimistic about the Grade 1-winning filly’s chances in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan.
A member of Union Rags’ lauded first crop, which also includes beaten Kentucky Oaks favorite Paradise Woods, the bay charge returns to the state in which she broke her maiden last fall when she takes on 10 others and breaks from Post 3 under topweight of 122 pounds in the 3-year-old filly main track event at 9 furlongs.
Last out, Dancing Rags returned from a five-month layoff to finish a perplexingly-dull sixth of seven in the Grade 2 Adena Springs Beaumont at Keeneland, the same track over which she annexed the Grade 1 Alcibiades last October at third asking. In her 2-year-old finale, she was a lackluster eighth of 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 5 at Santa Anita.
“I was disappointed with the Beaumont, of course, and I was hoping she would run well,” Motion said. “If she did that, we were going to hopefully go to the (Kentucky) Oaks with her. Obviously, that didn’t materialize, and it’s unfortunate. Looking at the PPs, you might say she lost a step, and maybe the Breeders’ Cup was one race too many for her. She was flat and disappointing.
“Perhaps I blame myself for her Beaumont, as 7/8 (of a mile) maybe wasn’t her thing, and I thought I could get away with it first (race) back with her. If I would have had a couple more works, I would have run her in the Ashland. I hadn’t always had the Black-Eyed Susan in mind, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t run her. She’s a Grade 1 winner and a two-turn horse. The only thing I don’t like is the weight she has to carry, but she’s had a really great couple of weeks. It’s obviously a concern that she really hasn’t been about to duplicate her (win in the Alcibiades), but my feeling is that she’s better than those last couple of races. I feel very good about running her.”
In the Black-Eyed Susan, Maryland’s premier 3-year-old filly event, Dancing Rags — the highest-earning horse in the race with $296,860 — stretches out to nine furlongs and two turns for the first time since her Breeders’ Cup effort. If victorious, she would become the first Maryland-bred winner of the Black-Eyed Susan since the Bud Delp trainee Calipha in 1994.
Motion also touched on another talented sophomore in his barn who may compete this weekend, No Mo Dough. The highly-regarded Alex G. Campbell, Jr., homebred son of Uncle Mo is considered possible for the $100,000 LARC Sir Barton Stakes. If entered, it would mark a two-week turnaround off of an impressive allowance score over the Bret Calhoun trainee Awesome Saturday at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, May 6. It was his third career effort following a maiden win at Laurel in March and a fourth-place effort in a Keeneland allowance in April.
“We might run him,” Motion said. “I always thought he was my best 2-year-old early on last year, and I had him close to a race, and then he had some minor issues. I always thought he was very good, and his run at Churchill wasn’t really a surprise. He’s not a really burly, strapping horse, and is a little lighter-framed, but he’s done very well since the race, and I may bring him back, even though it’s a little quick. He’s been galloping a mile and a 1/2 since the race and looks great.”
Pimlico Race Course
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