We continue our Triple Crown Day tradition with the time-honored turf lead-in as our Xpressbet Race of the Week. Churchill's Turf Classic now gives way to Pimlico's Dixie Stakes as a field of 12 battles in the Preakness precursor. It's the 118th running of the Dixie, a middle-distance test at 1-1/16 miles. The Dixie goes as Race 12 of 14 on the marathon card and is part of all the key multi-race pools late in the day. It may also possess a single.
Multiple G1 winner CATHOLIC BOY has a decided class edge that's tough to dispute even if he faced aged-restricted runners in those signature scores. G2 winner HAVE IT ALL also takes on elders on turf for the first time, while G3 winner REAL STORY also must answer the 'elders' question at this level. INSPECTOR LYNLEY is a multiple G3 winner and G2-placed at this level. JUST HOWARD is a G3 winner and third in this race last year.
Speedster FLAMEAWAY is cross-entered in Friday's Pimlico Special and expected to run there. But he obviously changes the pace complexion in the Dixie if he competes in this spot. Otherwise, REAL STORY should have run of the front with favorite CATHOLIC BOY likely to be used early from a tough post 12 draw and could sit just off the leader. There's not a lot of speed in here and the race should be won from the first flight so long as FLAMEAWAY doesn't compete and ridiculously quicken the tempo.
CATHOLIC BOY has been patiently handled this winter and makes his first start since the Breeders' Cup Classic in early November. He's been high-class on turf and dirt, and trainer Jonathan Thomas has outstanding numbers with horses off extended layoffs. According to Betmix data, last May-June Thomas ran 5 horses off breaks of 180 days or more and won 3 times with a runner-up to boot. Superior turf pace rider Javier Castellano gets the call and he'll find the trip from the outside post as well as anyone could manage.
INSPECTOR LYNLEY may not get the best pace set-up and from just inside CATHOLIC BOY to start could be more prone to a wide trip given his running style. Jose Lezcano will have his work cut out riding a horse who is typically even early. But 1-1/16 miles is the perfect distance for this son of Lemon Drop Kid. Trainer Shug McGaughey has had success putting Lezcano on this runner, winning minor stakes in their last 2 pairings.
JUST HOWARD takes blinkers off after chasing REAL STORY home in the local prep, the Henry S. Clark. The equipment change could put him farther behind that runner and impact his pace ability. JUST HOWARD pressed the entire trip last year when running a good third in the Dixie at 5-2 odds. But he's missed in 4 stakes since then, making REAL STORY the horse from the Clark most appreciated. Pace-wise, John Velazquez should get a great trip with REAL STORY...so long as FLAMEAWAY remains in Friday's Pimlico Special. Note that FLAMEAWAY has won on the turf, but it's been a long time between starts on the green. Sire Scat Daddy is exceptional on the Pimlico turf, so FLAMEAWAY must be considered dangerous is he winds up here.
SOMETHING AWESOME also is cross-entered in Friday's Pimlico Special on dirt. You'd expect him to stay in that race with only a single career turf start on paper. I'm far more inclined to back FLAMEAWAY over SOMETHING AWESOME when it comes to the horses who are cross-entered. Local stakes performers PHLASH PHELPS and O DIONYSUS have had good careers and own wins over the Pimlico lawn. The latter was fourth in this race last year.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: CATHOLIC BOY is 4-for-5 on turf and never missed a superfecta on the green.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: O DIONYSUS bottomed the Dixie superfecta last year and will be 3 times the price this time around the course.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $75 daily double CATHOLIC BOY over ALWAYSMINING in the Preakness. $25 daily double REAL STORY over ALWAYSMINING. (Handicapper's note: If FLAMEAWAY competes in the Dixie, go with $100 daily double CATHOLIC BOY over ALWAYSMINING.)