Canadian Horse of the Year Up With the Birds takes on highweights Hamp and Hey Leroy May 17 in the $400,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) at Pimlico Race Course, while looking to rebound from a disappointing season debut last time out.
The Sam-Son Farm homebred was sixth and last April 5 at Keeneland in a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance contest, his first start since winning the Oct. 5 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) with a brilliant run at Belmont Park. That victory capped an award-winning season in which he took the Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the Marine Stakes and the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, and finished second in Woodbine's Queen's Plate and in the Transylvania (gr. II) at Keeneland.
Joel Rosario rides Up With the Birds, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic runner, for trainer Malcolm Pierce from post 8 as part of a 118-pound assignment.
This year's Dixie, which immediately precedes Saturday's Preakness Stakes (gr. I), has been shortened from nine furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. It is the first change in distance for the race since 1990, when it was contested at 1 1/2 miles. Ten are entered with a scheduled post time of 5:27 p.m. EDT.
Sagamore Farm's homebred local contender Hamp comes in off a driving head victory in the April 19 Henry S. Clark Stakes going a mile at Pimlico, his first stakes score and first win of the season for trainer Ignacio Correas IV. Javier Santiago retains the mount from post 5. Maryland-bred Hamp, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa gelding, carries 120.
Also in with 120 is Florida shipper Hey Leroy, the 5-2 morning line favorite who arrived with Preakness Stakes (gr. I) contender and stablemate Social Inclusion . Trained by Manny Azpurua for Rontos Racing Stable, the 4-year-old gelded son of Any Given Saturday won the Appleton Stakes (gr. IIIT) going a mile on the Gulfstream Park turf in March with a nick-of-time move. He rebounded from a troubled 10th in his next start, an off-the-turf edition of the April 19 Miami Mile (gr. III) to win a May 3 allowance race at the Dixie distance by 1 3/4 lengths.
Javier Castellano picks up the mount on Hey Leroy, who seems poised to claim his first grade II score from the 6 hole.
Another interesting contender in the field of 10 older runners is Ellendale Racing's homebred Roadhog, who came knocking at the door in his season debut in the Henry S. Clark at Pimlico. The 7-year-old Pennsylvania-bred gelding actually took the lead with a five-wide move after being steadied early in that start, but was nipped by Hamp's flying late move on the line.
Trained by Elizabeth Merryman, Roadhog is the 2013 Maryland Million Turf Stakes winner. The son of Bowman's Band has not notched a graded triumph, however. He is to break from post 4 in the Dixie under Kendrick Carmouche and 118 pounds. Roadhog is also entered in the Red Bank Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park Saturday.
Also seeking a breakthrough victory is Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten, who has been graded stakes-placed on multiple occasions. Last year, the Kitten's Joy colt had second-place finishes in the Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT), Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), Penn Mile Stakes, and Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT), along with a third in the Toyotal Blue Grass (gr. I) and a ninth on dirt in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent the 4-year-old dark bay to an April 24 allowance score going 1 1/16 miles on the Keeneland Polytrack by half a length over Code West last time out under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who returns in this spot from post 3 as part of a 118-pound assignment.
Michael Bruder's Quick Wit could score his first grade II since an off-the-turf upset of the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) in August of 2012. Since then, the 5-year-old Sharp Humor runner has only one win after missing much of the 2013 season. He came back to the winner's circle in March with a neck allowance score on the Gulfstream turf.
Completing the field are Wertheimer & Frere's homebred Nutello—who was third for Graham Motion last time out in the Henry S. Clark and who last year ran third in the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT); Jon and Sarah Kelly's homebred Chamois (also entered in the Red Bank), making his season debut for Christophe Clement off a Nov. 17 victory in the Duluth Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack; Ramona Bass' homebred allowance winner Fredericksburg for Michael Matz; and Augustin Stable's homebred Utley for Jonathan Sheppard.
$400,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 11, approximate post 5:27 p.m. EDT), 3YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Fredericksburg (KY), L. Saez, 118, M R Matz, 12/1
2. Nutello (KY), T. McCarthy, 118, H G Motion, 12/1
3. Charming Kitten (KY), J.R. Velazquez, 118, T A Pletcher, 9/2
4. Roadhog (PA), K. Carmouche, 118, E M Merryman, 8/1
5. Hamp (MD), J. Santiago, 120, I Correas, IV, 12/1
6. Hey Leroy (KY), J. Castellano, 120, M J Azpurua, 5/2
7. Chamois (KY), J. Bravo, 118, C Clement, 6/1
8. Up With the Birds (ON), J. Rosario, 118, M Pierce, 5/1
9. Utley (KY), E.S. Prado, 118, J E Sheppard, 8/1
10. Quick Wit (KY), V. Espinoza, 118, D L Romans, 20/1