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Wesley Ward Aims for Second Straight Win in Miss Preakness (G3)
Happy Soul Faces Seven Rivals in $150,000 Dash for 3-Year-Old Fillies
BALTIMORE – Trainer Wesley Ward won last year’s Miss Preakness (G3) with a blossoming filly that was light on credentials, Red Ghost. He’s hoping to win the race a second straight year with another – Gayla Rankin’s Happy Soul – that brings a more imposing resume.
The 37th running of the $150,000 Miss Preakness for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs is one of six stakes, four graded, worth $1.05 million in purses during a spectacular 14-race card on the eve of the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), headlined by the 98th running of the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies.
Other graded stakes on the program are the historic $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) for 3-year-olds and up at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles and the $150,000 Allaire du Pont Distaff (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and up going 1 1/8 miles. Rounding out the stakes action are the $100,000 The Very One Stakes and $100,000 Hilltop Stakes, both on turf.
First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
When Ward’s Red Ghost won last year’s Miss Preakness, she did so in what marked her first stakes start. But Happy Soul is no stakes rookie.
“This one here, she’s definitely more accomplished going into the race,” Ward said of Happy Soul.
Happy Soul capped off her 2-year-old campaign in impressive manner, capturing the 5 ½-furlong Astoria at Belmont Park by 11 ½ lengths. Her first race as a 3-year-old resulted in a three-length victory in the six-furlong Dixie Belle at Oaklawn Park before Ward sent her to his home track at Keeneland in the 1 1/16-mile Ashland (G1). But the added distance of ground proved not to her liking, and she finished a well-beaten sixth after prompting the early pace.
“We were trying to stretch her out,” Ward said, “but she’s primarily a sprinter. She’s awfully talented sprinting, I’ll tell you that. We tried her in the Ashland with the filly [Nest] that was the runner-up and favorite in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). She just hit the far turn and she said, ‘This isn’t my game.’ So we gave her a little time. She started tearing the barn down, we gave her a work or two, and she’s ready to go.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has ridden Happy Soul in all five of her career starts, will be aboard again in the Miss Preakness.
“She’s a very nice filly, a sweetheart to be around, a gentle and kind filly,” Ward said of Happy Soul. “But when she gets onto the racetrack, she means business.”
Ward has already mapped out a schedule for the filly that includes the Victory Ride (G3) at Belmont in July and Prioress (G2) at Saratoga in September. For now, Ward is concentrating on the Miss Preakness.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Ward said. “Real excited.”
Happy Soul isn’t the only member of the Miss Preakness field trying to get back on track by turning back in distance. Under the Stars, winner of the seven-furlong Santa Ynez (G2) at Santa Anita in January, enters the Miss Preakness off a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks (G2).
Lady Scarlet, winner of the six-furlong Cicada at Aqueduct, is emerging from a fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Beaumont (G3) at Keeneland for trainer Michael Maker.
Saucy Lady T, who finished third in three of her four graded-stakes outings as a 2-year-old, is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in the Miss Preakness for trainer Graham Motion. The daughter of Tonalist has not raced since a fifth-place finish in the Frizette (G1) last October at Belmont.
Gimmick will be seeking her first stakes win for trainer Steve Asmussen. As a 2-year-old, Gimmick ran third in the Sorority last September at Monmouth Park and is coming off a 4 ½-length allowance win at Oaklawn Park last month.
Randy Patterson’s Verylittlecents will be making her seventh consecutive start against stakes company for trainer Randy Morse. The filly won the Debutante at Ellis Park as a 2-year-old and ran second behind Happy Soul in the Dixie Belle.
The connections of The Elkstone Group’s La Casa d’Oro are hoping their filly can duplicate Red Ghost’s accomplishment a year ago: win a stakes in her first attempt. La Casa d’Oro is coming off a maiden win at Laurel Park for trainer Brittany Russell.
“We still don’t have a great handle on what kind of horse we have here,” owner-breeder Stuart Grant said. “If you called me Friday night and said, ‘Hey, Stuart, congratulations, you won by half a length,’ I wouldn’t be surprised. But if you called me Friday night and said, ‘Hey, Stuart, your horse finished sixth and lost by eight lengths,’ I don’t know that I’d be surprised, either. So she’s going to tell us what kind of horse she is in this race.”
Sweet Solare, a recent allowance race winner at Belmont, is also entered in the Miss Preakness.