Jockey Elvis Trujillo gets a return call on Presious Passion for trainer Mary Hartmann, breaking from the far outside 12 post. Rider Rene Douglas has been retained on Always First for trainer Tom Voss and they drew post 6 in the 1 3/8-mile turf test.
Presious Passion was emerging as a major player in the division nationally last winter when he won the W.L. McKnight the first time at odds of 67-1, but he had a bad day when 11th of 12 in the Mac Diarmida a year ago. He bounced back to capture the Pan American Handicap (G3) at 20-1 here in early April and scored the biggest victory of his career in the United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park in early July at 14-1.
Always First makes his first start since finishing third behind Presious Passion in the W.L. McKnight and returns to South Florida from Voss’ Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton, Md. The English-bred son of Barathea’s credentials in turf stakes going long are well established, with the 12-furlong Sycamore Stakes (G3) at Keeneland in October among his best performances.
An intriguing contender in the race is Rolbea Thoroughbred Racing’s 5-year-old homebred Finallymadeit with regular rider Eduardo Nunez aboard for trainer Javier Negrete. The chestnut son of Concerto finished a game second to Albertus Maximus in the Donn Handicap (G1) last out on Jan. 31 on the main track, but leaves big questions on his ability to handle turf and the distance of Saturday’s race.
Other contenders to watch in the competitive field include Harlequin Ranches and partners’ 5-year-old English-bred Spice Route, Edgar Prado; and Fab Oak Stable and Kona Stable’s 5-year-old gelding Quasicobra, Julien Leparoux.
Spice Route won the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) last out at Calder on Dec. 6 going nine furlongs for trainer Roger Attfield. The son of King’s Best was among Canada’s best turf marathon runners last year at Woodbine, finishing second in the 12-furlong Canadian International (G1) and third in the Sky Classic Stakes (G2) going 11 furlongs before shipping south to Payson Park for the winter.
Quasicobra is a son of Wild Rush trained by Dale Romans and makes his first start since completing his 2008 campaign with allowance victories at Belmont Park at 1¼ miles in September and Churchill Downs over 1½ miles on Nov. 20.
Completing the field for the Mac Diarmida are Charles White and Felisha Ray’s Silver Mountain, Paco Lopez; Hare Forest Farm’s Summer Patriot, Eibar Coa; Dogwood Stable’s Slambino, Cornelio Velasquez; Lewis Pell and Michael Eigner’s Imawildandcrazyguy, Manoel Cruz; Robert Gerczak’s Baltimore Bob, Jose Lezcano; Circle E Racing’s Mr. Sidney, Kent Desormeaux; and Find A Cure Stable’s Phil the Power is entered ‘main track only’ in the race.