BALTIMORE,MD 05-13-10---Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard got off to a rousing start in the National Steeplechase Association standings this spring and now he will attempt to apply his imprint to the two major turf races on the Preakness Day undercard.
Sheppard will saddle the overnight favorites in both the Grade 2, $200,000 Dixie and the Grade 3, $100,000 Gallorette Handicap to highlight the six stakes races that will precede the 135th Preakness at Pimlico Race Course Saturday.
The Dixie, which was first run in 1870 as the Dinner Party Stakes and won by a horse named Preakness, drew 13 entries, including Nicanor, the full brother of Barbaro, in his first appearance in Maryland.
They'll all have to contend with Just as Well, the 7-year-old trained by Sheppard with more than a $1 million in lifetime earnings and a 3-to-1 betting choice.
Just as Well is coming off a fourth place in a Grade 3 stakes at Keeneland in his first outing of 2010, 4 1/2 months after going overseas for the Japan Cup.
"That was sort of an experiment on synthetic turf," said Sheppard. "I don't think he accelerated as well as he normally does, but it was a pretty good effort."
There will be plenty of competition for Just as Well, a son of A.P. Indy and grandson of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, who was the Dixie runner-up last year, beaten by Parading by half a length.
Wesley was third in the 2009 Dixie, another 1 1/4 lengths back, Rahystrada is coming off a solid win in Keeneland allowance company and has captured three of his last four races and Forgotten Dynasty is on a three-win surge. And, Nicanor will attempt to step up into stakes competition.
In the Gallorette, Sheppard was a bit taken aback by the even-money odds afforded his Rainbow, a Grade I stakes winner in Ireland last September and 6-for-13 in her career.
"That might be a little much," he said. "This is a pretty darn competitive field, very solid."
He said he was satisfied with her latest performance, a 1 1/2-length score over an allowance field at Keeneland April 16. "It was a very useful effort," evaluated Sheppard. "She did it well in a very strong field. Julien (Leparoux) has confidence in her after working her before she won."
The primary arguments are expected from Ave, a Grade 3 victor, and Shared Account, who has been on the board in five straight outings (two of them wins).
Sheppard is concerned about the weather although Saturday's forecast appears to favor running on the turf. "If the course is a little yielding it'll be okay, but if it gets worse I wouldn't run."
Comedero is expected to be the choice in the tight six-horse field for the Grade 3, $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes, named in honor of "Mr. Preakness" who died earlier this year. He has lost only once in seven career starts.
The hard-hitting Blame rated a slight nod over Todd Pletcher-trained Understatement in the Grade 3, $100,000 William Donald Schaefer at 1 1/16 miles.
The Grade 3, $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap looks like a bettor's delight with an 11-horse field and no clear favorite. Snapshot, conditioned by Bill Mott, is considered a lukewarm choice over Half Metal Jacket, Ravalo and Roaring Lion.
The card also features the $70,000 James Murphy Stakes and the Deputed Testamony Starter Handicap with a $25,000 purse for registered Maryland breds.