Locals set for big swing in Pimlico Special

In a race that is nearly as steeped in tradition as the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for three-year-old fillies to be offered roughly 35 minutes later, a handful of local trainers will look to etch their names in the history books Friday afternoon in the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special.

While the Special these days is merely a Grade 3, it has at two different times reigned as one of the most important races for older horses in the country. Its greatest fame perhaps stems from its status as the race in which Seabiscuit bested War Admiral, while for about a 20-year period starting with its rebirth in 1988, the Special was a must stop on the schedule of virtually any runner with top older male aspirations.

Friday’s Pimlico Special will feature a trio of horses trained by Hall of Fame conditioners Todd Pletcher and Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, but local trainers Anthony Farrior, Robin Graham and Hugh McMahon will look to topple the invaders with horses of their own. Pletcher’s Vindictive is the 2-1 morning line favorite in a bulky, 11-horse field.

But the locals hope to make an impact of their own. Farrior will send out Treasure Trove, an allowance winner last out and listed at 12-1 on the morning line with Jevian Toledo up, Graham will saddle Workin On A Dream, also listed at 12-1 with Horacio Karamanos getting a leg up, while McMahon will send out Excellorator, posted at 15-1 with apprentice Jean Alvelo aboard.

Each of the three horses that those trainers will saddle will aim to assume Cinderella status against the likes of Pletcher trainees Vindictive and Untreated and McGaughey’s First Captain, who exits a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Carter Handicap but sports a win last summer in the Grade 3 Dwyer.

Treasure Trove and Workin On A Dream both have stakes experience, but it was Excellorator who came achingly close to being an official stakes winner. Just over a year ago, in what proved to be the final start of his sophomore campaign, Excellorator was first past the post in the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes but was disqualified and placed second.

In the aftermath of the Tesio, McMahon gave some thought to fighting the stewards’ ruling but ultimately demurred.

“At the time the judges were really watching the horses closely in the lane and the jockeys knew they could not change lanes,” McMahon said. “He swung out wide in the lane and they disqualified him. The owner left it up to me, but I decided not to appeal. His feet have always been an issue, so he overcame so much just to be able to win that race. But he was not among the Triple Crown nominees, and the owner was not going to supplement even if he had been put up on appeal. My blacksmith, Ian McKinley, is amazing. He’s been able to keep him shod without any serious issues.”

After his Tesio placing, McMahon gave Excellorator a long vacation and brought him back this spring where he has immediately regained his winning ways. In his belated four-year-old debut on April 7, Excellorator captured a one-turn mile allowance at Laurel Park in the slop as the 8-5 favorite with Alvelo aboard and then came right back to win another one-turn allowance event at Laurel under muddy conditions as the even-money favorite on May 1. Only the close proximity to his most recent start gives McMahon any caution for Excellorator, who sports a 5-3-2 slate and over $210,000 banked from 11 lifetime tries.

“Coming back in three weeks is not ideal,” McMahon said. “But after he won his first start back, his owner [Larry Rabold] wanted to try him in a stakes. I wanted to give him one more race and he ran really well. I think he’s going to be better on a fast track and better going two turns. This horse has already overcome a lot of adversity. Once they get in the gate, they all run on dirt and around the rail and they don’t know who their trainers are.”

Working On A Dream owns a 5-7-3 slate and over $266,000 banked from 30 career outings and was recently fourth in the $100,000 Native Dancer, second in the Harrison Johnson and sixth as the beaten favorite in the John B. Campbell. His most recent victory was a  10-length romp in a one-turn allowance tally over the muddy going at Laurel last fall with Karamanos aboard, his renewed pilot in the Pimlico Special.

“He came out of his last race good and he’s coming into this race really good,” Graham said of Workin On A Dream, who fired a five-furlong ‘bullet’ work of 1:01 last week at Laurel. “He’s got plenty of natural early speed, but he doesn’t need the lead to win. I’m not that concerned about the track condition. He’s run well over fast tracks and over off tracks. There are some really good horses coming in from out of town for the race, but I think he’ll run his race on Friday.”

Treasure Trove, a sharp allowance winner last out for Farrior traveling nine furlongs at Laurel, had previously won another allowance at Laurel prior to running fourth in the John B. Campbell. Treasure Trove, a winner twice in five outings this year who sports a solid 8-6-4 slate and nearly $320,000 banked from 35 career outings, has only made one previous start at Pimlico but Farrior is not deterred by that lack of experience.

“He’s coming into it really good,” Farrior said. “He ran really well that last start at Laurel and he came out of it great. I think the distance is going to be perfect for him. He’s a come-from-behind horse, so I hope to see a few speed horses out there early. I saw where Excellorator is cross-entered for another race on Saturday, but I hope he stays in the Pimlico Special. He’s got plenty of speed and so does Robin’s horse. I’m hoping to see some fast fractions early to help things set up for my horse.”

Excellorator (inside) was DQed from a win in the 2021 Federico Teio. Poto Jerry Dzierwinski.