Friday's Black-Eyed Susan undercard at Pimlico features a stellar edition of the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special Stakes as well as three sprint stakes in the lead-up to Saturday's 137th running of the Preakness Stakes.
The Pimlico Special, formerly called the William Donald Schaefer, has drawn 10 runners to go 1 3/16 miles on the main track at Old Hilltop. Included in the well-matched, talented group is Mission Impazible, Toby's Corner, Endorsement, Hymn Book, Nehro and Alternation.
Mission Impazible is seeking a return to the winner's circle following a trio of seconds in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, Grade 1 Donn Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in his past three. The Todd Pletcher-trained gray's last victory came in the 2011 New Orleans 'Cap, but the Unbridled's Song five-year-old posted a sharp five-furlong move in :59 2/5 on Belmont's training track Saturday in preparation for the Pimlico Special.
Toby's Corner will be making just his third start since returning from a near year-long layoff. The Graham Motion pupil captured the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in 2011 but became unsound in his left hind leg in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. Withdrawn on the Tuesday of Derby week, the Bellamy Road colt was given plenty of time to recover from his injury, which was never pinpointed with an exact diagnosis.
Toby's Corner made his return to competition in the Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel Park on February 20, finishing third by only a length, but was well-beaten last out when filling that same spot in the New Orleans 'Cap. Eddie Castro has been in the saddle ever since the chestnut won last year's Whirlaway Stakes and retains the mount on Friday.
Endorsement also had an extended vacation while preparing for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Trained at that time by Shannon Ritter, the Distorted Humor colt posted a three-length victory in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby, but suffered a non-displaced lateral condylar fracture in his right front ankle in a workout just hours before the 2010 Kentucky Derby post position draw.
When he reappeared in December, the chestnut was in Eoin Harty's shedrow and proceeded to post a pair of seconds against optional claiming company. Endorsement finally got back on the winning track in February and returned to stakes competition in time for a two-length score in the Grade 3 Texas Mile Stakes on April 28. Martin Garcia guided the five-year-old in his maiden win and takes back the mount for the Pimlico Special.
Alternation brings an unbeaten seasonal mark into Friday's race. The Distorted Humor four-year-old opened the year at Oaklawn with a 3 1/2-length win in the Essex Handicap, and proceeded to conquer the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap and Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap at that Hot Springs, Arkansas, venue. The Donnie Von Hemel trainee also captured the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes last season.
Hymn Book rocketed to fame when gutting out a nose score over Mission Impazible in the Donn to start his six-year-old campaign. The Arch gelding has made just one start since that February 11 victory, running fourth in the Oaklawn Handicap, but could easily return to form on Friday with John Velazquez staying in the irons. Nehro was sixth in the Oaklawn 'Cap in his second start since a eight-month vacation. That extended break was forced upon him by an ankle chip suffered while running fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Prior to that contest, the Mineshaft colt was second in the Kentucky Derby. Nehro returned on February 25 at Fair Grounds to take an optional claimer by 7 1/4 lengths.
Only two in the Pimlico Special field have previously run over Pimlico's main track, and Cherokee Artist gained his valuable experience just recently when taking a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on April 27 by 8 1/4 lengths. The stakes-winning son of Cherokee Run will be making just his third start since being claimed by Hidden Hill Farm in February at Laurel Park.
It's been awhile since Yawanna Twist visited Old Hilltop, but that 2010 trip resulted in a fourth-place run, just two lengths back of the winner, in the Preakness Stakes. The Yonaguska five-year-old ran third in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last year and opened this season by earning his first stakes win in the General George.
The remaining two runners in the field are Grade 2-placed Cease, who scored in the Maxxam Gold Cup in March, and five-time stakes winner Eighttofasttocatch.
Grade 3 hero Ben's Cat is seeking a title defense in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint on the undercard. The five-furlong grassy contest drew 12 runners, including the gelded son of Parker's Storm Cat who posted a third straight win in the Mister Diz Stakes over course and distance on April 7.
Distaffers will get their turn on the turf when 11 fillies and mares line up for the $100,000 The Very One Stakes at five furlongs. Well Deserved and Inspired ran second and fourth, respectively, in the 5 1/2-furlong Giant's Causeway Stakes on Keeneland's turf last out and face-off once again in The Very One.
Friday's stakes action will get underway in the 6TH race, with Primonetta Stakes star Bold Affair and multiple stakes queen It's Me Mom heading a field of seven distaffers entered for the $100,000 Skipat Stakes going six furlongs on the main track.