'Smile' Dixie defender Mott tries four stakes; Boniface looks for pace; Yagli, Ajina take shots in $200,000 Pimlico races; Notebook


Local runner Ops Smile returns to defend his title in the Grade II, $200,000 Dixie and Bill Mott sends out four formidable stakes competitors to highlight today's Preakness undercard.

In the 97th running of Pimlico's oldest continuous stakes race, trainer J. William Boniface believes that pace is the key to Ops Smile's chances.

"I haven't really looked at the PPs [past performances]," said Boniface. "But I'm hoping for pace, maybe from that 4-year-old filly."

That is Auntie Mame, the only female in the 1 1/8 -mile race on the turf. She will break from the No. 3 post.

Ops Smile, now 6, took the 1997 Dixie in a thriller from Brave Note. Edgar Prado was aboard for that victory and returns to ride.

The roan son of Caveat will test 11 rivals in a race first run in 1870. "I think he'll be more focused in his third start this year," said Boniface. "He's coming up to it fine. He had a good two-mile blowout."

The most intriguing member of the field is Auntie Mame, who is regarded as one of the top distaff grass specialists, with 11 career wins. She finished third -- beaten only by a neck -- in her only outing this year, the Grade II Black Helen Handicap at Hialeah.

Mott's entry in the Dixie is Yagli, who may rate as a slight favorite off a victory in the Hialeah Turf Cup last time out. Jerry Bailey is aboard.

Bailey also rides Ajina, the likely heavy choice in the Grade III, $200,000 Distaff at 1 1/8 miles. Ajina is 6-for-14 lifetime, with earnings of more than $1 million. She won three important Grade I races last year to seal an Eclipse Award.

Top sprinter Cat Be Nimble, with Prado up, also is defending a Preakness Day championship in the Grade III, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup.

Serious opposition should come from Richter Scale, who will be making his first start for Mott and first since the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Acceptable, another Mott trainee, is expected to seriously contend in the $125,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. Second in the Blue Grass Stakes last year, Acceptable is undefeated in two starts this year.

The Sir Barton Stakes, $100,000 for 3-year-olds, figured as a mini-Preakness, but like the big one, has been weakened by defections. Federico Tesio champ Thomas Jo, 3-for-3 this year, figures as the favorite.

Familiar surroundings

Victory Gallop made an appearance on the turf course yesterday, shortly after the Alibi Breakfast.

Trainer Elliott Walden walked the colt from the 3/16ths pole to the saddling area for the Preakness after reiterating that he chose Mary Eppler's barn for its comfort factor. "He spent his 2-year-old season here, so the surroundings are familiar," said Walden.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet galloped about 1 3/8 miles. Trainer Bob Baffert pronounced him "the best of all three horses I brought here." Since that includes Silver Charm, it was a strong endorsement.

Trainer Tom Amoss said he will make a "few adjustments" with Hot Wells, including a return to a figure-8 bridle, which he did not wear while finishing fourth in the Arkansas Derby.

The two D. Wayne Lukas horses, Cape Town and Baquero, also galloped at Pimlico.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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