The race immediately preceding the Preakness Stakes takes on a new look Saturday when the Jim McKay Turf Sprint is positioned as Race 12 on the Pimlico card. The McKay replaces the Dinner Party in that time-honored spot as the Dinner Party's reservation was moved up earlier in the program this year. The Jim McKay Turf Sprint is named for the legendary ABC Sports broadcaster and Maryland native who did so much to promote the state's Thoroughbred industry.
CAROTARI is a G3-placed and listed stakes winner. HOLLIS won this race in 2020 during the autumn Preakness re-boot. Other listed stakes winners include SMOKIN' JAY and GRATEFUL BRED.
With 10 turf sprinters, you expect the pace to pump early. CARTOTARI and SEVEN SCENTS will scoot from posts 2-3. Outside pressure should come from GRATEFUL BRED, HOLLIS and CONCRETE GLORY. This doesn't look like a meltdown scenario, however, as the top pace players are among the strongest candidates. Expect 1 or 2 of them to outlast any potential scuffle.
CAROTARI is the 9-5 morning line favorite and will be firing fresh off a New Year's Eve layoff for sharp turf sprint trainer Brian Lynch. He won his final 2 starts of 2021 and does his best running on firm turf courses like Gulfstream and Ellis Park. With a forecast in the low to mid-90s for Preakness Day, expect the course to be plenty firm and to the liking of CAROTARI. From post 2, he'll have SEVEN SCENTS right next to him throughout to apply pressure. Both are under hustling gate riders Luis Saez and Florent Geroux, so my assumption is they'll hook up. Both are highly capable of winning, but will have to work for it to do so.
HOLLIS should be the beneficiary outside of them. We know he likes the course, and this dirt threat also benefits from firmer course conditions on grass. He's had the strongest company lines of late with his series of sprint stakes at Oaklawn. While he failed in his title defense here in 2021, the form cycle looks friendlier this time. He didn't go in the Shakertown at Keeneland and run here as the afterthought as he did a year ago. It looks like trainer John Ortiz has him laid up since March with a circle on the calendar.
GRATEFUL BRED is Maryland's top turf sprinter, winning the Maryland Million Turf Sprint at odds-on in October and returning to run a solid third in the local prep, the King T. Leatherbury Stakes. The lightly raced 6-year-old has made just 12 starts, but owns 5 wins and is 2-2 at Pimlico, winning a pair of local allowances. Jockey Jevian Toledo is the undisputed local turf sprint king and will give this one every chance against the out of towners.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
Love the trip HOLLIS should get and he's proven locally.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
MR. HUSTLE is 10-1 morning line and it's worth noting trainer Mike Maker's had big success bringing Preakness weekend stakes horses to town in recent years. With Irad Ortiz Jr. named to ride, there's a lot to like here in terms of connections.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$70 win HOLLIS. $10 exacta part-wheel HOLLIS over CAROTARI, SEVEN SCENTS, MR. HUSTLE.