Ethereal Road among key Sir Barton contenders

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. But he also knows sometimes it’s best to take the base on balls when presented the opportunity.

Not that Saturday’s $100,000 Sir Barton, sponsored by Brandon and Diannah Perry to benefit the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, is a gimme for the Lukas-trained Ethereal Road. But with the 1 1/16-mile race restricted to 3-year-olds that have never won an open stake, it’s certainly a less formidable assignment than the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) that is the centerpiece of the blockbuster 14-race program at historic Pimlico Race Course.

“We’ll run him in the Sir Barton, maybe build his confidence, try to get a win,” Lukas said, “If he does really well in there, then we’ll jump into the Belmont Stakes [G1]. I think the Belmont would be a good fit.”

The 24th running of the Sir Barton is among 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.75 million in purses on Saturday’s card. Besides the 147th running of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, the other graded-stakes are the $250,000 Dinner Party (G2) for 3-year-olds and up and $150,000 Gallorette (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and older, each at 1 1/16 miles on the grass; $200,000 Chick Lang (G3) for 3-year-old sprinters; $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3), a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds and up; and $100,000 UAE President Cup (G1) for Arabian horses.

First race post time is 10:30 a.m. The Sir Barton is carded as the eleventh race and slated to go off at 4:53.

Lukas has taken some shots with Ethereal Road, the 3-1 second choice in the Sir Barton’s field of 10, for which B Dawk is the 5-2 favorite. Ethereal Road jumped from a maiden victory into Oaklawn Park’s Rebel (G2), finishing second. After a disappointing seventh in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1) April 9, Lukas wheeled the Quality Road colt back a week later in the Lexington (G3) to try to get additional qualifying points and secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1) starting gate.

Ethereal Road finished fourth in the Lexington but squeaked into the 20th spot in the Derby field after a couple of horses were withdrawn from consideration. However, Lukas wasn’t satisfied with how Ethereal Road was doing and scratched him out of the Derby the day before –paving the way, as it turns out, for Rich Strike to draw in off the also-eligible list at the last possible minute, then rallying to win at 80-1.

A strong five-eighths of a mile work in a minute flat at Churchill Downs had Lukas beaming – though not quite enough to put Ethereal Road in the Preakness, for which he has Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath.

“Boy, he’s having a great week,” Lukas said, adding of the decision to go in the restricted Sir Barton rather than the Preakness. “I wonder if I really screwed up there. But he’s going in the Sir Barton.”

B Dawk was named by owner Joseph Besecker for Brian Dawkins, the former Philadelphia Eagles star defensive back who was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

It took five starts – and the blinkers coming off in the fifth – for B Dawk to win a race. But then he did so by 11 ¼ lengths at Keeneland. Tyler Gaffalione, up that day, has the return mount as B Dawk stretches out to race around two turns for the first time.

“He ran super with blinkers off,” said trainer Doug O’Neill. “We’re optimistic that two turns will do him well. He continues to train and work well.”

Local hopefuls in the Sir Barton include The Addison Pour (15-1) for trainer Brittany Russell and owner The Elkstone Group LLC (Stuart Grant) and Mr Jefferson (6-1) for Mike Trombetta and R. Larry Johnson. Mr Jefferson was a near-miss second in the Tesio to stablemate Joe in his last start.

Ethereal Road

Ethereal Road. Photo by Allison Janezic.