By Lynne Snierson
Perfect Alibi is running out of excuses.
Owner Tracy Farmer and trainer Mark Casse had high aspirations for the Sky Mesa filly and she seemed well on her way to realizing them as a juvenile when winning the Schuylerville (G2) and the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga in 2019. But then she lost five straight races, which included a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
Now her Hall of Fame trainer hopes that the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2), in which she takes on 10 other sophomore fillies at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday’s Preakness card at Pimlico, will see her return to the winner’s circle.
“We hope so. I thought her last race was much better,” Casse said of the filly’s third in the Weber City at 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park on Sept. 7. “We’re just hoping she can build from that. Hopefully, she will.”
After running fifth in the Acorn (G1), beaten 31 lengths by Gamine, and finishing fourth in the Test (G1) in her other two 2020 starts, the class relief she found in the Weber City was decidedly to her advantage.
“I agree. It got her into her race mode. The first couple of times she ran (in the Acorn and Test), those were just so tough, she just couldn’t keep up early and then she never really got into the race,” Casse said.
Perfect Alibi, 10-1 on the morning-line, will be adorned with blinkers for the first time when she departs from the far outside in post 11 with Paco Lopez in the aboard, also for the first time.
“I think the blinkers will help her focus a little more,” Casse said of his charge, who is not a filly that likes to race up on the pace. “This is not an easy race. She didn’t draw a great post. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure. The good news is it is a mile-and-an-eighth race so there’s some run to the first turn. Paco doesn’t usually sit chilly, so he’ll have her up there somewhere in the mix. But this is a tough race.”
Farmer is one of the trainer’s longest and most loyal clients and Casse would like nothing better than to win on Preakness Day with his $220,000 yearling purchase. Farmer has been an owner and breeder for five decades and last year the Casse-trained Sir Winston gave him his first victory in a Triple Crown race when Sir Winston won the Belmont Stakes.
“It would be awfully nice to win this race for him with this filly,” said Casse, who will be competing against his son and former top assistant Norman Casse. The younger horseman sends out Mizzen Beau, a going-away winner of the Bison City Stakes for Canadian-bred fillies at Woodbine in her last start as he seeks the second graded stakes score of his career since going out on his own in 2018.
“It is neat that we’re both in this race. Hopefully, both fillies run well,” said the elder Casse.
Perfect Alibi, Mizzen Beau and the others will have to handle the challenge from the Juddmonte Farm homebred and 7-5 favorite Bonny South.
The winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) earlier in the year was rerouted to the Black-Eyed Susan, when it was announced in mid-August that the race would be run on Preakness Day (Oct. 3). The 96th edition of the race was scheduled for Friday, May 14 (a day before the usual Preakness date) before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the racing calendar.
Trainer Brad Cox elected to skip the Kentucky Oaks (G1) with Bonny South, who was a closing second behind Swiss Skydiver in the 1 ¼-mile Alabama (G1) on Aug. 15. Swiss Skydiver, the Oaks runner-up, is skipping this race and instead facing the boys in the Preakness.
“Since the Alabama she’s done really, really well,” Cox said of Bonny South. “She’s maturing. She’s still somewhat lightly raced, only run six times in her life. I think we have yet to see the best of her. Hopefully, she’ll take a step forward.”
Bonny South will be ridden by Florent Geroux. She drew post 5 and is being asked to shoulder 124 pounds, sharing co-highweight with 38-1 Delaware Oaks (G3) winner Project Whiskey (15-1) and Perfect Alibi.
Cash is King Racing and LC Racing’s Project Whiskey last time out was ninth in the Weber City Miss.
“She hasn’t run well at Laurel, so we’re not sure if she just doesn’t like the surface too much,” trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. said. “She didn’t get away clean and got back a little further than she normally is and had to eat some dirt, and it wasn’t to her liking. She came out of her race like she never even ran. We’re going to give her a mulligan on that one and look for better things because she’s training perfectly. So, we’re going to take another shot.”
Victor Carrasco has the call on Project Whiskey from post 1.
Also entered are Truth Hurts (20-1), So Darn Hot (6-1), Dream Marie (15-1), Sharp Starr (20-1), Hopeful Growth (8-1), Miss Marissa (12-1), and Landing Zone (6-1).
First run in 1919 as the Pimlico Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan will be race 10 on an all-stakes Preakness Day program, immediately preceding the 145th Preakness. Post time for the Black-Eyed Susan is 4:41 p.m. ET, and will be part of NBC’s national television coverage from 4:30-6 p.m.
Lynne Snierson, a former director of communications at Arlington Park and Rockingham Park, currently is a freelance writer and racing publicist. She covered thoroughbred racing as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers In Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. She lives in New Hampshire. Secretariat remains her all-time favorite horse.