Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview–May 16, 2015

Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview–May 16, 2015

A great Saturday of racing awaits tomorrow afternoon! Most of the focus will be on Pimlico, where the $1.5 million Xpressbet Preakness Stakes (gr. I) is the highlight of the day, but there is also an intriguing sprint race for fillies and mares on schedule at Belmont Park. So without further ado, let’s delve into handicapping the races!

Vagrancy Handicap (gr. III)
6.5 furlongs at Belmont Park

Five-year-old La Verdad has stamped herself as one of the best female sprinters in New York, and easily won her 2015 debut in the April 18th Distaff Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct. She’ll be heavily favored on Saturday, and deservedly so, but I’ll take Room for Me to pull off the upset. The David Jacobson-trained filly has been on a roll as of late, winning her last three starts by a combined 27 3/4 lengths. The most recent of those victories came on May 8th at Belmont, when she cruised to victory in a six-furlong allowance race while running the final quarter-mile in :24.10 and stopping the clock in 1:09.61. She’s clearly in very good form right now, and the short rest shouldn’t be a problem — Jacobson has had great success running his horses on short layoffs, including a victory just last week in the Diablo Stakes with Stallwalkin’ Dude. Room for Me is 2-1 on the morning line, but I think there’s a chance that she’ll go off at higher odds, and I like her chances to track the pace and wear down La Verdad in the homestretch.

Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III)
6 furlongs at Pimlico

Picko’s Pride came off a lengthy layoff to finish third in the Count Fleet Stakes (gr. III) on April 9th at Oaklawn after setting absolutely blazing fractions of :21.31 and :44.05. With that race under his belt, he should be primed for a good effort on Saturday, where his blazing speed and proven ability to close from off the pace should enable him to adapt to any pace scenario and be right in the mix at around 9-2. He is my selection to win.

One horse that could benefit from a fast pace is Coup de Grace, from the barn of Larry Jones. The four-year-old colt won a pair of graded stakes races last year with eye-catching late rallies, but could only finish third in a six-furlong allowance race at Fair Grounds on March 20th, his first start of the season. Like Picko’s Pride, he should improve in his second start off the layoff, and should be rallying late if Picko’s Pride and the speedy Happy My Way go too fast in the early stages of the races.

Dixie Stakes (gr. II)
8.5 furlongs on turf at Pimlico

A full field of fourteen plus two also-eligibles have been entered in this 8.5-furlong turf race, although the possibility of rain tomorrow at Pimlico could lead to some scratches. My selection to win is Lochte, a grade I winner that is very talented, but also very inconsistent. Last time out, he failed to fire when seventh in the Appleton Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, but had previously sandwiched victories in an allowance race and the Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. III) around a troubled seventh-place effort in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I). After racing five times in the first three months of the year, Lochte has taken a bit of a break and will hopefully be fresh and ready to roll at around 20-1 on Saturday. War Correspondent, winner of the Appleton Stakes, is the morning line favorite and definitely warrants respect, but has drawn post thirteen and may be in for a wide trip. The speedy Aripeka, who finished a close second in the Appleton, should have a good chance starting from post four over a turf course that has been favoring speed, and two-time graded stakes winner Long On Value could rebound from his pace-setting third-place finish in the Maker’s 46 Mile (gr. I) if he reverts to his preferred stretch-running this Saturday.

Preakness Stakes (gr. I)
9.5 furlongs at Pimlico

My complete analysis of the Preakness Stakes can be viewed on the blog Unlocking Winners (click here to view) but in essence, I believe drawing the rail will allow Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah to seize command of the early lead while saving ground, then draw clear to score a more decisive victory than he achieved in the Derby. For second, I like Dortmund to track the pace and hold on for second, with Danzig Moon and Firing Line rounding out the superfecta.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the graded stakes races on Saturday?

Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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