The 1-1/16 mile race for 3-year-olds was previously known as the Federico Tesio Stakes. Canonero II was a Venezuelan-based colt who won the 1971 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Trainer Juan Arias and jockey Gustavo Avila will be on hand to present the trophy to the winning connections.
The Pleasantly Perfect colt, who is the even money choice on Frank Carulli’s morning line, has started in five stakes since leaving the maiden ranks at Monmouth Park last fall. He won the Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs, finished third in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream and second in the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct. His most recent start was a well beaten seventh in the Wood Memorial (G1). Elvis Trujillo is his regular rider.
Chris Grove is pointing New York-bred Pretension (7-2) to Saturday’s feature. His resume includes a win and a second in two restricted stakes in at Aqueduct, a fifth place finish in the Gotham and a troubled ninth in the Illinois Derby (G3). Javier Santiago has first call on the son of Bluegrass Cat.
“I am not looking at the Preakness unless he wins this race,” Grove said. “He could have been third in the Gotham but Edgar Prado was riding to win and got passed by Finnegans Wake and Tiger Walk for third at the wire. He just didn’t like Hawthorne. But I don’t want to make too many excuses. At some point, you have to say he isn’t that good to run in races like the Derby and Preakness. I do know we are going back to what got us to the Gotham and that is sitting off the pace in a stalking position. I don’t know what the others are doing but we have to go back to what was working when he finished first or second in his first five starts.”
Brimstone Island (9-2) has started in three stakes since being claimed by Billy Campbell for $16,000 on February 1. He’s finished second in the Miracle Wood, third in the Private Terms, both at Laurel, and fifth in the Hilton Memorial at Charles Town. Xavier Perez, who was aboard in his two tries in Maryland, regains the mount.
Trainer Steve DeMauro gave Midnight Serenade (6-1) his first start of 2012 in Tampa’s Sophomore Stakes and watched him rally into second in the race restricted to Florida-breds. A winner of the Seacliff Stakes at Calder last year, the Bandini offspring will carry Abel Castellano for the first time.
Maiden winner Respectful Ed (10-1) will try stakes company for the first time for trainer Linda Albert. He finished second in an optional claiming race here on April 1. Joshua Navarro will ride.
Leadhills (15-1), a Rodney Jenkins trainee, led to the top of the stretch but finished fourth in the same test. Richard Monterrey has the call.
The 11-race card will also include a Jockey Challenge featuring four riders visiting from Venezuela competing against four from the Maryland colony. The jockey with the most points at the end of a four-race competition will be crowned champion. Races 1, 3, 5 and 7 have been designated as Jockey Challenge races.
The Venezuelan riders will be Francisco Arrieta, Santiago Gonzalez, Edgar Perez and Jean Carlo Rodriguez.
The 23-year-old Arrieta, with more than 200 wins on his resume, will be aboard Caroline Baron (30-1, race 1), Maryland Mystique (2-1, race 3), Shanghai Knight (15-1, race 5) and My Lil Virginia (30-1, race 7).
Gonzalez , who is poised to become his country’s fourth rider to reach the 2,000 win plateau, will team up with Blading Silver (7-2, race 1), Sweet Valor (20-1, race 3), Ovechkin (8-1, race 5) and Kind Hearted Woman (10-1, race 7).
Perez, who rode in the United States in 2010 and 2011 at Tampa Bay Downs, has riding assignments with Glenn’s Hope (6-1, race 1), Dance With Sandy (10-1, race 3), Unbridled Music (15-1, race 5) and Lion Down By Me (8-1, race 7).
Rodriguez, who has more than 1,050 career winners, will ride Hideaway Moon (9-2, race 1), Fashion Princess (12-1, race 3), Singin The Blues (12-1, race 5) and Girl Wonder (20-1, race 7).
Representing the Pimlico colony will be Abel Castellano, Malcolm Franklin, Horacio Karamanos and Julian Pimentel.
Castellano, who currently tops the Pimlico rider standings, will ride Drop It Now (5-2, race 1), Andros (6-1, race 3), Sir Rabbit (2-1, race 5) and Isra (3-1, race 7).
“It looks like on paper I have some good mounts,” said Castellano, a native of Maracaibo, Venezuela. “I am proud to represent Pimlico and the USA. I have been in the States since I was 16 years old (Castellano is 28) and I am very excited to represent the USA. This is where I grew up and learned how to ride. I have been back home just two times since leaving and both for just a couple days.”
The 22-year-old Franklin, who finished second in the 2012 Laurel winter standings, has the call on Jazzking (3-1, race 1), Swing Even (8-5, race 3), Ham and Ernie (4-1, race 5) and Dream Doer (15-1, race 7).
Karamanos, who rode a record seven winners at Laurel Park on October 26, 2002, will guide April’s Fool (15-1, race 1), Girlsruletheworld (5-1, race 3), Wild and Wiley (9-5, race 5) and Charged Cotton (5-2, race 7).
Pimentel, the second leading jockey in Maryland a year ago, drew the riding duties on Sky Wars (10-1, race 1), Old Lady Cowles (30-1, race 3), One Sunday (20-1, race 5) and Ella Marie (5-1, race 7).
The jockeys receive points for finishing first (12 points), second (6), third (4) and fourth (3) in each race. The champion jockey will earn $10,000. Other prize money: $7,000 (second), $6,000 (third), $4,000 (fourth), $2,000 (fifth) and $1,000 (sixth through eighth).