Way back when, Maryland had one of the country’s top racing circuits, ranking up there with New York, Kentucky, Illinois and California. Starting in 1870, Pimlico was a showplace that hosted some of America’s most important races, including the 1938 match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit that was broadcast nationally. It was known as the race that stopped a nation.
In 1952, Laurel Park inaugurated the Washington, D.C., International, which for 43 years drew top grass horses, many of them from Europe. Triple Crown champion Citation ran at Havre de Grace, and Bowie, Bel Air and Hagerstown also drew large crowds.
Long gone are those glory days, and except for Preakness weekend, Maryland racing gets little or no attention. The Stronach Group has refurbished Laurel, but Pimlico is a fossil that’s been falling apart since the Eighties. It’s sad to see that happen to a track with so much history, but Saturday’s all-stakes card will be a reminder of the good times.
Hats off to Old Hilltop for staging a wagering extravaganza. The 12-race program worth $2.6 million features six graded stakes, capped by the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies and the 145th running of the $1 million Preakness (G1). There are six turf races, five on dirt for thoroughbreds and one on the main track for Arabians.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions will keep the stands even more deserted than they usually are for a Wednesday card at Pimlico, but by now we’re used to spectator-free racing. The handle from internet bets will be huge for an afternoon of irresistible action.
It’s been just over a year since trainer Jose D’Angelo saddled his first winner in the United States — Beach Dreaming, on June 27, 2019 at Gulfstream Park.
On Saturday, the 30-year-old Venezuelan now based in South Florida will saddle Jesus’ Team in the $1 million Preakness (G1).
Talk about a quick rise to the national stage! The trainer has sent out 29 winners from 140 starters (through Sept. 29) since re-locating to the U.S. D’Angelo’s 3-year-old colt, a 30-1 long shot, will be going against the likes Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic and Thousand Words and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s trio of Excession, and Pneumatic.
“I have grown up watching trainers like Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen. To be in the same race with them is very special to me,” D’Angelo, who began training on his own in 2012, told the Pimlico press office. “I went to the track every day, every week, because my father was a trainer.”
D’Angelo learned from his father, Francisco D’Angelo, who won numerous training titles in his Venezuela while based at La Rinconada Hippodrome. Francisco has been training in South Florida since 2015.
“I won the Clasico Simon Bolivar, the most important stake in Venezuela, with Dreaming of Gold in 2014. That’s my best race until Saturday,” said D’Angelo. “It was a great day because I was the youngest trainer to win the race.
“I decided to come to the U.S.,” he added, “to follow my dream.”
Father and son help each other.
“My relationship with my dad is amazing. I learned all my skills from him,” said D’Angelo. “He helps me with my horses, and I help him with his horses, because we’re a team.”
Jesus’ Team joined the barn after breaking his maiden in a $32,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream for another trainer March 18. In his last three starts, he ran fourth in the Haskell (G1) behind Authentic, second in the Pegasus Stakes behind Pneumatic, and second in the Jim Dandy (G2) on Sept. 5.
“I think in his last three races, he didn’t have any luck during the race. I think he’s a horse that is getting better with his races,” said D’Angelo “I’m very sure he’s going to run a good race.”
Notes: Paco Lopez (Max Player) and Horacio Karamanos (Ny Traffic) will be riding for the first time in the Preakness … John Velazquez is on 9-5 morning-line favorite Authentic, who led all the way Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs. That was Johnny V’s third Derby win, but he’s 0-for-9 in the Preakness, one of the few major races the 48-year-old Hall of Famer hasn’t won. He was second twice, with Derby winner Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Itsmyluckyday (2013) … The race was contested on a sloppy track in three of the last five years. The Saturday forecast from weather.com calls for sunshine, no chance of rain and a high of 66 degrees.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.