No one had to give Ro Parra directions to Pimlico Race Course yesterday. The winning owner of Student Council in the Grade I, $250,000 Pimlico Special grew up in Maryland and has been to at least 15 previous Preakness weekends.
"But always in the infield," said Parra, a native of Ecuador who grew up in Lexington Park and eventually met his wife here. "This is the first time I've been to Pimlico and watched a race in the grandstand."
The view was superb for the Special, which returned to the Preakness weekend race card after a one-year absence.
Student Council, who went off at 7-1, paid $16.40, $6.60 and $4 after winning by a neck over Gottcha Gold, who had set the pace throughout the 1 3/16-mile race for older male horses - until getting caught at the wire.
The colt finished in 1 minute, 54.87 seconds. Sir Whimsey placed third, 5 3/4 lengths back.
When Student Council, sired by Kingmambo, broke last from the gate, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan took him to rate off the rail before leading him outside, five-wide, for his move toward the front.
"If something would have opened up inside, I would have taken it," Bridgmohan said. "He's such a great horse, and he's got such a great stride to him that midway down the backside he grabbed ahold of me and wanted to go."
When Bridgmohan found the outside opening, the horse responded with a determined run that paid off at the finish.
The winner of back-to-back races in the fall, Student Council hadn't won since returning from a trip to Tokyo in November.
"In hindsight, I wish we hadn't made the Japan trip," Parra said. "When he came back, he was tired. ... But [trainer Steve Asmussen] had him ready for this race. I spoke to him an hour before the race, and he told me to smile in the winner's circle."
Sweet Vendetta takes Susan
Sweet Vendetta, under the urging of her jockey, Channing Hill, rallied from next to last to close with a rush to the inside of Shes All Eltish and win the Grade II, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Owned by Team Penney Racing and David Cassidy (the 1970s teen heartthrob from The Partridge Family), Sweet Vendetta won her third race in her past four tries.
"I loved the mile and an eighth for her," her trainer, Gary Contessa, said after his horse finished the course in 1:49.60. "She was training up a storm. I know she's a natural at this distance. She's almost 17 hands and has that big loping stride.
"I thought this was a good fit. And when the heavens opened up last night, that added more icing to the cake. We know she loves the mud."
Sweet Vendetta, also bred by Cassidy, a horseman for 30 years, paid $17.40, $8.40 and $5.20.
"I was 25 years old when I started," Cassidy said. "But I've had a passion for horses since I was born. I owned my first horse, a riding horse, at 15."
Cassidy is evidently a pretty good historian, too, telling the crowd in the winner's circle that Hill's dad, Alan, rode My Juliet to victory in the 1975 Black-Eyed Susan.
The favorite, Bsharpsonata, trained by Tim Salzman, was in third after the first quarter-mile before suddenly backing up and finishing last.
Salzman, looking very concerned for his horse, had little to say after the race.
"We have no excuses," he said before hustling off after his horse.
Alberts wins Woodlawn
Trainer Nancy Alberts, remembered for training Magic Weisner to a second-place finish in the 2002 Preakness, won the $75,000 Woodlawn Stakes with Terms- ofengagement. The gelded son of Private Terms came from last to snatch the lead of M J's Enchanteur and win by two lengths. With Anna Napravnik up, the horse covered the 1 1/16-mile course in 1:45.64 and paid $11.20, $4.40 and $2.80.
Trainer Ken McPeek, who has Racecar Rhapsody in today's Preakness, was campaigning for drug-free major stakes races, saying horses who run in those races should not be rewarded as stallions if they have defects in need of such medical attention. Eliminating the weak from the bloodlines, McPeek said, can only make thoroughbreds stronger. He called on The Jockey Club, the Breeders' Cup and local racing commissions to take action.
History for Big Brown?
Big Brown will try to join Majestic Prince (1969), Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004) as undefeated Kentucky Derby winners who also won the Preakness.