The Maryland Jockey Club made a few changes in Pimlico's stakes schedule this year, loading more quality racing into the Preakness Stakes weekend, including Preakness Day itself. Still, the top race of the undercard remained the Citgo Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) at 1 1/8 miles. A pair of scratches, including the front-running type Dr. Kashnikow, left the pace scenario in doubt. Sam-Son Farm's Strut the Stage found himself on the lead early, was able to nurse the pace along, then found himself in the winner's circle after touring the turf course in 1:51.70. "The plan was not to be in front," said Albarado, the winning rider. "But I didn't want to discourage him; I rode him with confidence." "Robby recognized there was no pace and got him up there," said trainer Mark Frostad. "I was pretty confident in him turning for home." Strut the Stage, the 8-5 favorite, was tracked every step of the way by Del Mar Show, who was making his first start since a 10th-place finish in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I). The two sons of Theatrical led the way through early fractions over the yielding turf course, :25.31, :49.94, and 1:15.11. The soft splits were all the two of them needed to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Del Mar Show, trained by Bill Mott for the Allen Paulson Living Trust, made his run, actually getting the lead, and the two slugged it out in midstretch. Strut the Stage, who was on the inside path of the equation, found that something extra, and pulled away to a convincing 21?2-length score. "He just dug in," Albarado said. "He's a bulldog. He's all heart." "He loves bumping," Frostad agreed. "He's a bit like his uncle, Chief Bearhart." Eclipse champion Chief Bearhart is out of the mare Amelia Bearhart, Strut the Stage's second dam. Finishing a length back in third was Slew the Red, who was making his first start since a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) and is now in the hands of Neil Drysdale. The easiest of winners on the afternoon was Overbrook Farm's Snow Ridge, who manhandled an overmatched field in the $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) by 7 3/4 lengths. The son of Tabasco Cat took the field by the throat from the beginning and never let go, traveling the six furlongs in 1:10.06.
The colt, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, is not only fast as lightning, but is tough as well. He was making his sixth start of the year in the Pimlico sprint, and has now made 17 starts in the last 13 months. "He's just so smart," said winning rider Mike Smith. "He's just brilliant, and he can cruise at such a high speed. He does this every time--on the middle of the turn, you can feel him take another breath and he just accelerates." Left in his wake was Smile My Lord in second, who was 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Clever Gem. After conquering the West Coast this winter, Snow Ridge is now wreaking havoc all over the rest of the country. You never know where he'll show next. "Anywhere there are planes, that's where we're likely to show up," Lukas said with a laugh. The fillies got their chance on the turf earlier in the day and the Mary Eppler-trained Quidnaskra gave the Mid-Atlantic contingent something to crow about after her victory in the Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIIT). Bred by the late Mrs. Henry Paxson, Quidnaskra defeated the Michael Dickinson-trained De Aar by three-quarters of a length. Sitting just outside the early pace of Morena Park, Quidnaskra poured it on in the stretch to win the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:46.73 over the yielding going. She was making her first start off a seven-month layoff. Herbert Hogg and first-time Thoroughbred owner William Wise purchased Quidnaskra from the Paxson dispersal for $62,000. By Halo, Quidnaskra is out of the Northern Jove mare Miss Jove. Hogg is a CPA who is a friend of Wise's son. Wise is retired after working for Dean Witter. According to Hogg, they purchased the now 7-year-old mare just a week after Paxson died and a week before Halo died.Baltimore Bits
True Direction, by French Deputy, won the $100,000 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Preakness undercard. Trained by Carlos Morales for Morton and Marisol Binn, True Direction was an $85,000 purchase at the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale. He got the six furlongs in 1:10.90...The Kenny McPeek-trained Sarava won the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. Owned by Gary Drake's New Phoenix Stable and Susan Roy, the colt has blossomed since returning to the U.S. from a campaign in England. A strong stretch kick got him home by four lengths in 1:44.11. Expect to see him pitched higher down the road...Trainer Michael Dickinson got a victory in the $100,000 Woodlawn Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf with Mr O'Brien. Owned by Skeedattle II, Mr O'Brien won easily once getting clear running room in 1:46.01.(Chart, Equibase)