Preakness Weekend News & Notes

May 8th, 2021

Willful Woman Makes Stakes Return in $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2)

G2 Winner Fearless Bound for Pimlico Special (G3) After Saturday Work

Proxy Breezes Saturday at Fair Hill, $100,000 Sir Barton Remains in Play

BALTIMORE, MD | May 8th, 2021 – Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Willful Woman, a 3-year-old daughter of champion Nyquist and half-sister to Grade 3 winner Ever So Clever, will make her return to stakes company in the 97th running of the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) May 14 at Pimlico Race Course.

Alex Lieblong said the filly, based in Kentucky with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, is being pointed to the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan for sophomore fillies that headlines a program of six stakes, four graded, worth $1 million in purses on the eve of the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1).

“[Asmussen] says all systems go on her,” Lieblong said. “I usually get a vibe from him one way or the other and I think he’s felt real good how she’s trained. She worked the other morning and had a nice work. It was unlike an Asmussen work, although there were only 17 or 18 horses that worked, but she had a nice work there. So, knock on wood, it looks like she’s headed that way.”

Willful Woman breezed five furlongs in 59.80 seconds May 2 at Churchill Downs, fastest of 17 horses. It was her first timed work since rebounding from running last of seven in the March 6 Honeybee (G3) by winning an optional claiming allowance April 9, both going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park.

Purchased for $400,000 as a yearling in August 2019 at Saratoga, Willful Woman’s sire was the champion male at 2 and won the 2016 Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) and was third in the Preakness at 3. Ever So Clever, also out of the Grade 3-placed mare Foxy Danseur, won the 2017 Fantasy (G3) for Asmussen.

“We think she’s a really nice filly. She’s just kind of kept growing into herself,” Lieblong said. “She was kind of a big, tall, scopey thing, so to speak, but now she’s filling that scope out some so we’re tickled pink with the way she’s doing.”

Previously in the Black-Eyed Susan, the Lieblongs owned Marathon Lady, a 12-1 long shot who came up a neck short of Bob Baffert-trained winner Fiftyshadesofhay in 2013 Black-Eyed Susan. They won the 2020 Miss Preakness (G3) with Wicked Whisper. Asmussen in seeking his first Black-Eyed Susan win.

The Lieblongs will be back to defend their title in the $150,000 Miss Preakness for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs with the Asmussen-trained Abrogate, most recently fifth in the seven-furlong Eight Belles (G2) April 30 on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) undercard. The 3-year-old Outwork filly has won three of five career starts including the six-furlong Purple Martin Stakes April 3 at Oaklawn.

“If the horse whisperer, Asmussen, says she’s ready, then we’ll give her a shot,” Lieblong said. “She was right there with the leaders last time, and they went quick. She might be just a six-furlong horse.”

Though Lieblong said they will likely miss Preakness weekend to attend the high school graduation of their granddaughter, they have enjoyed great hospitality in previous trips to Pimlico and always look forward to the racing.

“We always enjoy coming up there if we can, if we’ve got something that looks like it might fit. Everybody’s so friendly up there,” Lieblong, an Arkansas native, resident and businessman who also serves as chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, said. “I’m looking forward to a year, like everybody is, without all the added drama and hard times.”

G2 Winner Fearless Bound for Pimlico Special (G3) After Saturday Work

WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.’s Grade 2 winner Fearless is headed to the historic $250,000 Pimlico Special (G3) May 14 at Pimlico Race Course following his half-mile breeze Saturday in New York.

In company with 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) contender Unbridled Honor for Hall of Fame-elect trainer Todd Pletcher, Fearless worked four furlongs over a Belmont Park training track rated fast. Both horses were timed in 49.75 seconds. 

Pletcher, still seeking his first career Preakness triumph, won the Pimlico Special in back-to-back years with Revolutionary in 2014 and Commissioner in 2015.

“I thought he worked very well this morning,” Pletcher said, “so he is on target for the Pimlico Special.”

Fearless returned from eight months between races to capture the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) Feb. 27 in his 5-year-old debut. The gelded son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper closed to be second, beaten a half-length, in the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 17 at Oaklawn Park.

Irad Ortiz Jr., the three-time defending Eclipse Award winner, was aboard for both starts and retains the mount in the Pimlico Special.

Other horses pointing to the Pimlico Special for 3-year-olds and up, contested at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, include defending champion Harpers First Ride; Cordmaker, third each of the past two years; Alwaysmining, Last Judgment, Max Player, Modernist, Prioritize and Treasure Trove.

Proxy Breezes Saturday at Fair Hill, $100,000 Sir Barton Remains in Play

Godolphin homebred Proxy, most recently fourth in the Lexington (G3) April 10 at Keeneland, breezed Saturday at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. for his next start, which could come next weekend at Pimlico Race Course.

Proxy worked four furlongs in 49.20 seconds over the main dirt course at Fair Hill, third-fastest of 24 horses. The bay son of Tapit out of the Include mare Panty Raid – all Grade 1 winners – is nominated to the $100,000 Sir Barton for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the undercard of the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 15.

In his most recent race, Proxy ran fourth in the Lexington (G3) April 10 at Keeneland, his fourth race this year. Proxy made his first three starts at Fair Grounds, finishing second in the LeComte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) before a fourth-place finish behind Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Proxy won back-to-back starts at Fair Grounds in November and December after being beaten a neck on debut last October in an off-the-turf maiden event at Monmouth Park.

“He came out of the Lexington in great shape. He ran hard all winter. He ran five times down at the Fair Grounds and then we ran him right back kind of close in the Lexington. We’re just giving him a little chance to catch up with himself and freshen him just slightly and look for a summer program for him,” trainer Michael Stidham said.

“We’ve got him nominated to multiple spots and we haven’t really decided on which one,” he added. “Iowa Derby, Ohio Derby, all those different races, and we’re not sure which one we’re going to go for.”

The fastest half-mile breeze Saturday at Fair Hill was turned in by Proxy’s stablemate Micheline, who completed the distance in 48.40 seconds. Godolphin’s 4-year-old daughter of champion Bernardini win the 1 1/8-mile Hillsborough (G2) March 6 at Tampa Bay Downs and exits a sixth in the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley (G1) April 10 at Keeneland.

Micheline is nominated to the $150,000 Gallorette (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf, also part of the Preakness undercard.

“Both horses worked very well at Fair Hill. They’re training well and doing well,” Stidham said. “We’re looking at some different spots with them but nothing is set in stone yet.”

Stidham said Godolphin’s Pixelate, caught in deep stretch and beaten a nose by Corelli in the 1 1/16-mile Henry S. Clark April 24 at Pimlico, was unlikely to come back in the $250,000 Dinner Party (G2) May 15.

“We’re nominated to the Dinner Party but we’re most likely not going to run just because it’s a little close back,” he said.

Entries for the May 14 Black-Eyed Susan Day program will be taken Sunday, while entries for the May 15 Preakness Day program are due Monday.