Undefeated through four starts this year and a winner of five consecutive stakes dating back before Christmas, Luna Belle will be tested like never before facing 10 shippers among the largest field in nearly three decades for Friday’s $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 98th running of the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies highlights a spectacular 14-race program that includes six stakes, four graded, worth $1.05 million in purses and serves as a fitting prelude to Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Other graded stakes on the Black-Eyed Susan program are the historic $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) for 3-year-olds and up at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, the $150,000 Miss Preakness (G3) for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs and the $150,000 Allaire du Pont Distaff (G3) for fillies and mares aged 3 and up going 1 1/8 miles.
Rounding out the stakes action are a pair of turf events, the $100,000 Hilltop for 3-year-old fillies at one mile and the $100,000 The Very One, a five-furlong dash for females 3 and older. First-race post time Friday is 11:30 a.m. EDT. Post time for the Black-Eyed Susan, carded as Race 13, is scheduled for 5:44 p.m. EDT.
Owned by Deborah Greene and Laurel Park-based trainer Hamilton Smith and bred by Smith, Greene and her late father, Fred Greene Jr., Luna Belle earned automatic entry into the Black-Eyed Susan by virtue of her 4 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Weber City Miss April 16 at Laurel, her two-turn debut.
During her streak, Luna Belle has won at distances from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. She was also nominated to the $100,000 Hilltop going a mile on the grass and considered for the $150,000 Miss Preakness (G3) sprinting six furlongs, both on Friday’s undercard.
“She’s done everything that we’ve asked of her so far. We had another stake we could have gone in on Black-Eyed Susan Day, the sprint, but we didn’t,” Smith said. “We decided that she’s done enough to deserve the chance at it, and we’ll see how she can perform with them. We’re going to give it a whirl and hope for the best.
“If she runs the same type of race that she has in the last several, where she’s able to relax off the lead a little bit, she should be tough,” he added. “I would have to think there will be some speed in the race, moreso than what we’ve had before, really. It should set up pretty good in that respect.”
A field of 13 was entered for the Black-Eyed Susan, the largest since it got 13 in 1994 when it was won by Calipha, trained by late Hall of Famer Bud Delp, who was also based in Maryland. Second choice at odds of 9-2 on the morning line, Luna Belle drew Post 6 and will be ridden for the sixth straight race by Denis Araujo.
“She’s won five in a row and she’s stepped up a little further in distance each time and she’s handled it well. Off of her last race, it doesn’t look like a mile and an eighth should be a hindrance,” Smith said. “I think the main thing is the competition that she’s going to have to run against. You’re looking at a tougher bunch of fillies in here than we’ve had recently.
“Hopefully she runs well and if she gives us a good account of herself, that’d be fine,” he added. “I’d like to see her win it, naturally, but as long as she runs good and comes out fine, that’s the main thing.”
The 5-2 program favorite for the Black-Eyed Susan is Michael Lund Petersen’s Adare Manor, a 13-length winner of the one-mile Las Virgenes (G3) Feb. 6 at Santa Anita in her stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is serving a 90-day suspension that goes to July 2. Adare Manor, by champion Uncle Mo, was beaten a neck when second in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) April 9, her most recent start, for trainer Tim Yakteen. Since the race she has been with Sean McCarthy, best known as the trainer of Grade 1 winner Majestic Harbor.
Adare Manor and jockey John Velazquez drew Post 10.
Flurry Racing Stables’ Interstatedaydream (6-1) enters the Black-Eyed Susan having run third to Nest – subsequently second in the May 7 Kentucky Oaks (G1) – in Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile Ashland (G1) after setting the pace. The Classic Empire filly won twice last summer before getting the rest of the year off, returning with an 8 1/4-length optional claiming allowance triumph March 13 at Oaklawn Park.
“She’s doing great,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She had a good breeze this past weekend, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a nice spot – 3-year-old fillies going long on the dirt. Some of the top-notch fillies obviously ran last weekend. Hopefully she can become a graded-stakes winner.”
Florent Geroux rides from Post 9.
Bradley Thoroughbreds, Gary Finder, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Tim Cambron, Anna Cambron and Team Hanley’s Distinctlypossible (8-1) ran second in both her starts as a 2-year-old including the Alcibiades (G1) last October at Keeneland. The daughter of two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Famer Curlin has raced once this year, graduating by 1 1/4 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight April 10 at Keeneland.
“She’s a lightly-raced horse that we got a little bit of a late start with this year. She was a little sick over the winter and I was really trying to get her on the Oaks trail and she just ran out of time. She’s a really talented horse, and I’m looking forward to bringing her,” trainer Chad Brown said. “This seems like a nice spot to keep her around two turns.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call from Post 7.
Stonestreet Stables’ Favor (8-1) was a two-time winner going a mile at Gulfstream Park over the winter before being stepped up to stakes company for her most recent start, the 1 1/16-mile Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), where she ran third behind champion Echo Zulu, beaten 2 1/4 lengths. She trained in South Florida through April before returning to Belmont Park and rejoining Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who won the Black-Eyed Susan with Stopchargingmaria (2014), In Lingerie (2012), Panty Raid (2007) and Spun Sugar (2005).
Favor drew Post 12 with jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Beguine and Radio Days are both 12-1 on the morning line for the Black-Eyed Susan. Charles Matses’ Beguine ran second by a neck at odds of 11-1 in the April 2 Fantasy (G3) at Oaklawn Park and was entered in the Kentucky Oaks but failed to draw into the field as the first also-eligible. The Gun Runner filly broke her maiden in front-running fashion one start prior to the Fantasy, also going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn.
“I thought all along she was going to want to run two turns. When she won the first time going two turns, she went right to the lead with a soft pace and really didn’t learn anything, and we didn’t learn a whole lot about her. When we stepped up in the Fantasy she sat behind horses and came up the inside and got a couple races of experience probably in the one race,” trainer Dan Peitz said. “Just kind of an improving filly that I think can take another step forward. I don’t think the mile and an eighth is going to be a problem.”
Jose Ortiz rides from Post 5.
Joseph Allen’s Radio Days will be taking a third shot at becoming a graded stakes winner, having run second in the Feb. 5 Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream Park and April 10 Beaumont (G3) at Keeneland, both sprinting seven furlongs, the latter to Matareya who came back to take the Eight Belles (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 7. Undefeated in two starts at 2, Radio Days has run as far as a mile in the March 5 Busher Invitational at Aqueduct, finishing fourth by 1 1/2 lengths as the favorite.
“I thought in the race at Aqueduct she laid up a little too close,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won the Black-Eyed Susan with Mesabi Maiden in 1996. “The idea was to get her back and she ran a really good race at Keeneland. She just ran into a horse she couldn’t beat. We’ll see how good she is. We are looking forward to getting her stretched out and seeing what happens.”
Joel Rosario returns aboard from Post 11.
Also in from New York are Midnight Stroll and Missy Greer. Gatsas Stables, R.A. Hill Stable and Steven Schoenfeld’s Midnight Stroll (15-1) takes a two-race win streak into the Black-Eyed Susan, both victories coming over the winter at Tampa Bay Downs. She broke her maiden going a mile and 70 yards Feb. 26, then came back to capture the seven-furlong Sophomore Fillies against fellow Florida-breds March 27.
“She had a great winter down there,” trainer John Terranova said. “She ran really well last time and came out of it really well, and we’ve had this race in mind ever since. She’s just a nice filly.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano gets the call from Post 4.
West Paces Racing, Flying P Stable, Peter Callahan and Flying Partners’ Missy Greer (20-1) began her career with two turf starts at 2 last fall, and also spent the winter in Florida. She finished third in a Feb. 13 maiden special weight before graduating by 5 1/4 lengths in a similar spot March 23, each going a mile at Gulfstream. She relocated in May to trainer Danny Gargan’s string in Saratoga, where she has been training.
Missy Greer will break from Post 2 with Luis Saez.
Margaret Long and Keith Long’s Miss Yearwood (20-1) will be trying stakes company for the first time after beating older horses in a 1 1/4-mile maiden special weight April 30 at Churchill Downs, her fourth career start. The Will Take Charge filly tuned up for the Black-Eyed Susan with a bullet five-furlong work in 58.8 seconds May 13, the fastest of 28 horses.
Miss Yearwood and jockey Julien Leparoux drew Post 3.
Trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. entered LC Racing, Cash is King and Gary Barber’s stakes winner Morning Matcha (20-1). She had never finished off the board through nine starts, three of them wins, including the one-mile, 70-yard Main Line March 8 over her home track of Parx, before running sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle (G3) April 9 at Aqueduct. Reid felt it was the pace, rather than the distance, that did her in that day. Morning Matcha was second in the Jan. 23 Busanda, also going nine furlongs.
“She’s done a mile and an eighth twice already. Her last start was in the Gazelle and she kind of ran evenly, but it was a race with no pace,” Reid said. “She needs to get a little help with the pace and have them back up to her a little bit. She’s a very, very tough filly.”
Frankie Pennington will get a leg up for the third straight race from outside Post 13.
Rounding out the field are a pair of Graham Motion-trained fillies, Candy Light and Divine Huntress. Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables’ Divine Huntress (15-1) is also exiting the Gazelle, where she ran fifth after chasing the pace into the stretch. A troubled ninth in the Feb. 19 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds, she opened her sophomore season with a popular 12 3/4-length optional claiming triumph going a mile and 70 yards Jan. 19 at Parx in her first start for Motion after being privately purchased.
“I was happy enough with the Gazelle. She didn’t get much out of the Rachel Alexandra,” Motion said. “This is my local track and I would like to give her a chance over a track she has trained on pretty regularly.”
Fortune Racing’s Candy Light (20-1) went winless in two turf starts at 2 before being beaten a nose in a one-mile maiden special weight Dec. 31 at Laurel Park. She graduated in a similar spot Feb. 24 and most recently was second to Luna Belle, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Beyond the Wire.
“She has done well,” Motion said. “I thought her last race was really good. She was beat by obviously the best filly in Maryland, but it was a credible effort we had this race in mind for her since then.”
Flavien Prat is named on Divine Huntress from the rail, while Charlie Marquez will be up on Candy Light from Post 8.
First run in 1919 as the Pimlico Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan was renamed in 1952 to honor the Preakness and Maryland’s state flower. Nine of its winners have gone on to be named champion 3-year-old filly including Hall of Famers Davona Dale, Real Delight, Royal Delta, Serena’s Song, Silverbulletday and Twilight Tear.
Among other prominent Black-Eyed Susan winners are Hall of Famer Gallorette; Nellie Morse, the only filly to also win the Preakness, in 1924; But Why Not, Caesar’s Wish, High Voltage, Vagrancy, Wide Country and Wistful.
|#||Silks||Horse / Sire||Rank||Rating||Trainer / Jockey||Last Start||HRN|
Will Take Charge
Not This Time
I. Ortiz, Jr.
|C. McGaughey III|
Pioneer Of The Nile