BALTIMORE — John Servis has never seen Joint Return race on a sloppy track. Like it or not, the esteemed trainer may get that opportunity in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
Heavy rain is predicted for the Baltimore area on Friday, which could play havoc with this Grade 2, $500,000 race for 3-year-old fillies.
Joint Return has won three of four starts this year, but each victory came on a fast track against lesser competition. Her only defeat in 2014 was a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks.
“She hasn’t done a whole lot wrong,” Servis said. “She matured mentally over the winter and seems to be a lot better. I’m eager to see how she runs against some of the best fillies.”
A projected 11-horse field will run over 1 1-8 miles, and it could very well be a muddy affair.
Asked if the slop might be trouble for his horse, Servis replied, “I don’t think so, but you really don’t know until you try it.”
Joint Return received 15-1 odds in the morning line. Servis last won the Black-Eyed Susan in 2000 with Jostle, and his last graded stakes victory at Pimlico was in the 2004 Preakness with Smarty Jones.
“It’s nice to get another crack at the Black-Eyed Susan,” Servis said. “A win would really be a feather in my cap.”
The favorite, Stopchargingmaria at 7-2, is one of two entrants trained by Todd Pletcher.
Stopchargingmaria has run only twice previously this year, finishing fifth in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park before coming in fourth last month in the Fantasy at Oaklawn.
“She seems to have moved forward and has been training very enthusiastically, indicating to us that she’s back in form,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, that turns out to be the case.”
Unlike Joint Return, this does not represent a step up in competition for Stopchargingmaria. Six of her seven lifetime outings have been graded races, and her $574,000 in career earnings tops the Black-Eyed Susan field.
Pletcher’s other entrant is Sloane Square, ridden by Joel Rosario. The filly, who’s 5-1 in the early line, was unraced as a 2-year-old before winning two of three starts this year. The defeat came in her last outing, the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks.
“She has stepped up in class and distance each time and has run well,” Pletcher noted.
Maryland-bred jockey Rose Napravnik will be aboard Arethusa, an 8-1 choice.
“Looking at it on paper, she’s definitely got a shot,” Napravnik said. “I think the race looks wide open.”
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