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Friday, May 20, 2005
Preakness undercard picks

By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com

BALTIMORE -- First, a correction. When I wrote two weeks ago that Derby Day at Churchill Downs was racing's longest day, I was wrong. It slipped my mind that on Preakness Day, Pimlico's first post is at the ungodly hour of 10:30 a.m. It's not often that you can be down triple digits before noon, and that's why I refused to even look at Pimlico's first four races for Saturday. There's plenty of fine stakes action later in the day, before I hope to see Noble Causeway rally to pull an upset in the 130th Preakness.

Poor Old Hilltop couldn't catch a break Friday, when heavy overnight ran that lasted into the afternoon forced three races off the grass and led to 43 scratches. The outlook is much better for Saturday, when no rain is expected and the temperature is likely to reach 70 degrees. The main track should be fast but the lush turf course undoubtedly will have a good deal of give in it, meaning that the chances of soft-course specialists should be upgraded.

Woodlawn Stakes
English Channel won his grass debut with ease on a good course at Keeneland last month and looks like a standout here. Wallstreet Scandal was a close second in his only turf try last fall in a stakes at Belmont Park and must be considered. (English Channel and Wallstreet Scandal were entered Friday in a minor stakes at Belmont, so either or both could be scratched.) Another contender is Holy Ground, who closed powerfully to take his turf debut last month at Gulfstream.

1. English Channel. 2. Wallstreet Scandal. 3. Holy Ground

Gallorette Handicap
Film Maker, who ran second in the Breeders' Cup Filly&Mare Turf last October, makes her 2005 debut on a soft course she should love. Her main opponents look like Briviesca and Path Of Thunder, both of whom also have won on rain-softened ground.

1. Film Maker. 2. Path Of Thunder. 3. Briviesca.

Maryland Breeders' Cup
Gators and Bears is fast, versatile and tough and rates the call despite a six-race losing streak. He's been facing a who's who of very strong sprinters (Speightstown, Clock Stopper, Saratoga County, Don Six) ran very well in his season debut, battling hard on the pace before giving way to be second to Clock Stopper. His main rivals here are the very quick Primary Suspect and Willy O'The Valley, first time off the claim for the very hot Richard Dutrow Jr.

Dixie Handicap
Artie Schiller couldn't have been more impressive in cruising to an easy win in the Grade II Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in his year's debut. On paper he looks clearly the best , but he doesn't do his finest work on giving turf, so he might be vulnerable at very short odds. If Artie Schiller doesn't handle the footing, Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now could be the one. He prefers some give in the grass and just won at 1 1/16 miles in a stakes at Aqueduct, though he is better at 1_ miles and beyond. Deserving exacta consideration is Good Reward, a dependable grinder who was second in his only try on non-firm turf.

1. Artie Schiller. 2. Better Talk Now. 3. Good Reward.