Seven stakes races offering a combined $900,000 in purse money will provide lucrative support to the $1 million Preakness today.
Two $200,000 events, the Grade II Argent Dixie Stakes and the Grade III Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, headline the undercard on a 13-race program at Pimlico Race Course.
Five other races will be contested for $100,000 in purse money.
In the Dixie, Canadian Horse of the Year Wando will test 11 rivals over 1 1/8 miles on the turf course. The winner of Canada's Triple Crown last year, Wando has been out only once in 2004, winning on the lawn at Keeneland last month. He will have to overcome the extreme outside post (12) to capture his 10th victory in 15 career starts.
The primary competition is expected from Millennium Dragon, a Grade III winner in January; Silver Tree, the reigning Virginia Derby champion, and Warleigh, 8-for-19 on the grass.
The six-furlong Maryland Breeders' Cup features another Canadian star, Soaring Free, who won the sprint title in his country, and Gators N Bears, the Charles Lopez trainee who has been off the board only twice in 20 career starts.
Many horses who come up short for Preakness consideration go in the Sir Barton at 1 1/16 miles. Included in the field is Preachinatthebar, a Bob Baffert charge who was considered for the Triple Crown series earlier. One of the primary rivals will be Royal Assault, who finished fifth in the Wood Memorial.
Two other stakes are Grade III events, the Gallorette Handicap and William Donald Schaefer Handicap.
Forest Music wins
Forest Music, the talented gray/roan filly by Unbridled's Song, became the fourth winner on yesterday's card for owner Michael Gill when she nudged John Servis-trained Stephan's Angel by a head in the Grade III, $100,000 Adena Stallions' Miss Preakness Stakes.
She had won her maiden race over six furlongs in a torrid 1 minute, 8 2/5 seconds and was coming back after a five-month layoff because "the owner wanted to go," according to winning trainer Mark Shuman. "I really didn't think she was ready for this."
Forest Music tried the best juvenile fillies in the nation in the Breeders' Cup after that astounding maiden win, but struggled home 14th and last. She completed her comeback on a sunny day at Pimlico.
She was rated by jockey Ramon Dominguez, who took her wide for the stretch run and then held off Stephan's Angel.
"We definitely mismanaged her last year," said Shuman. "Her natural ability is just amazing."
Rider Stewart Elliott of Smarty Jones fame said Stephan's Angel "didn't like the dirt being kicked in her face. I knew I could run at the end and she came flying once we got out, but she got a little too far back trying to avoid the dirt."
Friel's for Real surprises
Another Philadelphia-based horse, Friel's for Real, upset the odds in the Grade III, $150,000 Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup, winning by 2 1/4 lengths under jockey Abel Castellano Jr.
Friel's for Real was 3-for-4 in previous shippings to Maryland this year.
Castellano bided his time, moved nearing the quarter pole, then pulled away from favorite Angela's Love, the pacesetter, and Fircroft.
She won two allowance races and the $50,000 Gala Lil Stakes at Laurel Park this winter.
"Sword Dance progeny just seem to get better with age," said Edward T. Allard, the winning trainer. "I was a little leery of today's race because I was moving back in distance [from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16]. The rider said the distance was no problem at all."
Record falls - twice
The track record for five furlongs on turf was broken twice today on a course hardened by the recent heat wave.
Go Go Baby Go now owns the record of 56.02 after scoring an upset in the $75,000 Very One Stakes, the last event on the card.
Ryan Fogelsonger guided the chestnut mare to victory after Nortouch had shattered the previous mark of 56.10 in 56.03 while taking the seventh race.
Odds shorten on 'Smarty'
After $116,937 had been wagered to win last evening, Smarty Jones' odds in the Preakness had dropped to 2-5, making him an overwhelming favorite.
Imperialism was the second choice at 6-1, with Lion Heart slipping to a tie for third with Rock Hard Ten at 8-1.
Others were Eddington (20-1), Borrego and Water Cannon (25-1), Sir Shackleton (50-1), Song of the Sword (55-1) and Little Matth Man (60-1).
The condition of jockey Rick Wilson was upgraded from critical to serious yesterday. Wilson remains at Maryland Shock Trauma Center after a spill a week ago at Pimlico. ... Jockey Mario Pino escaped serious injury in the Miss Preakness when his previously undefeated filly, Among My Souvenirs, broke down after the field entered the stretch. Pino was thrown from his mount, and Jozbin Santana, aboard Perilous Night behind them, was also involved in the incident. He, too, was unharmed. The filly had won three straight for Peter Angelos' Marathon Farm. ... The stewards yesterday issued five-day suspensions to three jockeys - Enrique Jurado, Eric Camacho and Joe Rocco Jr. - for careless riding. Rocco has appealed and received a stay.