He had been away from the races since disappointing in the Breeders' Cup Mile last November, but the layoff was no impediment to Hap in the Grade III, $200,000 Dixie Handicap yesterday at Pimlico Race Course.
The Bill Mott trainee took on a formidable field and prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths over long shot Make No Mistake to score his seventh win in 12 starts and increase his lifetime earnings to nearly $500,000.
"It was a case of history repeating itself," Mott said. "This horse has always run well fresh. He had minor ankle surgery during the winter, but we were in no real hurry to get him back because he didn't get good last year until the middle of the summer. I had six horses to choose from for this race. I felt he was my best chance."
Hap, son of Theatrical, is unbeaten in five races at 1 1/8 miles. He completed the distance yesterday in 1:48 2/5 over a firm turf course.
In the process, he bested Quiet Resolve (fourth) and North East Bound (sixth), the two betting choices off their performances in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 13.
"Things rarely go exactly as you expect them to," victorious jockey Jerry Bailey said. "This time I figured I'd come out about fourth and go on from there. That's exactly what happened. Of course, you always expect good things of Billy Mott's horses if they ran three weeks ago or last November."
Make No Mistake rallied for the place followed by long shot Cynics Beware, a local runner under Mario Pino.
Disco Rico dances to Cup
Local sprint star Disco Rico showed his heels to a classy field in the Grade III, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup, pulling away to a 2 1/2 -length score over a Bob Baffert trainee, Flame Thrower.
It was an impressive outing by Disco Rico, whose last graded victory was in the Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup almost a year ago. He ran six furlongs in 1:10 2/5.
Trainer Valora Testerman said the Citidancer colt will now be aimed for the Breeder's Cup Sprint next autumn.
"I'll space his races so he'll be fresh in November, maybe just two or three during the summer. He puts in a huge effort in every work and every race."
"He'll give you 150 percent and you just stay on," jockey Harry Vega said. "I like to ride all kinds of good horses, but this one is special. We had no trouble at all."
Flame Thrower was coming off a layoff, and Baffert said, "I couldn't have found a tougher spot for the poor horse. He didn't seem to want to run on the turns, but when they straightened out for home, he ran really well."
Serra Lake sneaks by Jostle
Pat Day charged Serra Lake undetected along the rail in the final eighth of a mile and nipped heavily favored Jostle in the Grade III, $200,000 Pimlico Distaff.
Jostle, the victor in the Black-Eyed Susan last spring, apparently had the race won after putting away the local hope, Prized Stamp, before the sixteenth pole. But Serra Lake prevailed by a neck for the second straight race and captured her third win in a row.
Mike Smith, aboard Jostle, admitted that "I thought we had it. But she didn't see that horse on the inside, and neither did I. We just got nailed."
"Pat knew just what to do," said Robby Medina, assistant to Serra Lake's trainer, Shug McGaughey. "She's an honest mare and she only has one run."
"Forty feet before the finish line she kind of lunged," Day said. "I didn't know for sure whether I had won or not. It's nice to ride a horse like this. When you ride the best in the race, that's what makes you win most of the time."
Doing a number
Track oddsmaker Clem Florio said he was forced to handicap the 12-race Preakness Day card in "22 minutes" during the Preakness draw at the ESPN Zone. "And I couldn't get back to the track for the proper information."
As a result, there were some wildly fluctuating odds, particularly on the undercard, a normal occurrence Preakness Day because of the preponderance of one-time bettors on the grounds.
For instance, in the Dixie, Hap was 8-to-1 on the morning line, but bet down to 3-to-1 as the winner, and in the William Donald Schaefer Handicap, Perfect Cat was listed as 8-to-1 overnight, but won at 3-to-2.
No change for Dollar Bill
The troubles of Dollar Bill continued in the Preakness, leading to the question as to whether this horse is simply hexed.
In his previous three starts, he (a) clipped heels and nearly went down before finishing fourth; (b) took a bumping and finished third, and (c) was taken up sharply and finished 15th.
Yesterday, he ran into more difficulty, but was roaring down the lane to gain fourth.
"I'm a little disappointed," said trainer Dallas Stewart. "He should have been right there [at the finish.] But he got bothered on the backstretch."
Local runner Marciano also had some problems.
"A horse came over on him and he cut the inside of his leg," said trainer Tim Ritchey. "It's a pretty good nick. It looks like he ran into trouble again at the head of the lane. This horse is a May foal and he's going to get a lot better as the year goes along."
'Roma' headstrong but good
Burning Roma failed to make the Preakness by losing to Marciano in the Tesio, but partially atoned by scoring a three-quarter-length victory over shipper Mi Amigo Guelo in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes.
Jockey Rick Wilson had a tough time holding the colt back during the race, but managed to get him home ahead of a Mott trainee and four others.
"He's headstrong, too headstrong," Wilson said. "I don't know what's wrong with him. If he'd relaxed more, he could have run off and hid. This is my first time on him this year. I understand he was very headstrong with Chris [McCarron] in the Tesio."
Perfect Cat by whisker-plus
Favored Perfect Cat ran down Rize at the sixteenth pole and pulled away to a 1 1/4 -length score in the Grade III, $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap, notching his first graded stakes win.
A son of 1994 Preakness winner Tabasco Cat, Perfect Cat is now 5-for-21 lifetime.
"We felt this horse deserved to win a stakes," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "He ran a huge race last time out against Broken Vow and I knew he was ready for this."