On the eve of the Preakness Stakes, Army Wife took center stage on Friday with a win in the 2021 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
As soon as the gates opened, Lady Traveler, Adventuring and Beautiful Gift shot to the top of the field. Army Wife was in fifth place at the half-mile marker, but jockey Joel Rosario got her to make a move coming around the final turn.
Lady Traveler faded down the stretch, allowing Army Wife to cruise past the finish line for an easy victory.
2021 Black Eyed Susan Results (Win, Place Show)
1. Army Wife ($11.00, $5.80, $4.00)
2. Willful Woman (--, $12.60, $7.80)
3. Lady Traveler (--, --, $8.40)
4. Forever Boss
5. Miss Leslie
6. The Grass is Blue
7. Beautiful Gift
9. Iced Latte
Payout info via NBC Sports Network broadcast
Trained by Michael J. Maker, Army Wife's resume coming into Friday has been inconsistent. She had two wins under her belt, including at Gulfstream Park on March 13, but the filly most recently finished third at the Gazelle Grade 2 event on April 3.
Laurie Ross of Horse Racing Nation did suggest in the lead up to the Black-Eyed Susan that Army Wife was a sleeper contender:
"In the Gazelle Stakes, she had a good trip behind the speed until she hit the turn. She raced between horses, and Trevor McCarthy had to tap on the brakes at the 3/16 pole when horses came over and closed the hole Army Wife was about to enter. Once in the clear, Army Wife made up some ground to get third place over The Grass is Blue. Army Wife has tactical speed and gets a jock switch to Rosario."
Rosario pushed all of the right buttons in the race, starting with not pushing her too hard out of the gate. Pimlico can be a good track for front-runners, so there was incentive to make a big move early.
Starting from the inside gate, Rosario made good use of the rail to keep Army Wife within striking distance throughout before finally cutting her loose down the final stretch.
Since a disappointing seventh-place showing at Honeybee on March 6, Willful Woman has rebounded with two impressive performances. She won her follow-up race on April 9 and was the runner-up in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
Lady Traveler posted a top-three finish for the first time in three races. She came in seventh in the Honeybee and fourth in a tune-up on April 9.
This was a disappointing day for several favorites.
Iced Latte was gaining steam coming into the weekend based on her recent performance and speed in practice, but it didn't translate to success on Friday. The Repole Stable-owned filly had two wins and a runner-up finish in her previous three races.
Per Matt Bernier of NBC Sports, Iced Latte's "greatest asset is her early speed." One indicator of success on the track at Pimlico is a fast start. She was neck and neck with Surrealist at Gulfstream Park on March 14 before pulling away down the stretch for a 1.5-length win.
Iced Latte also had the benefit of being trained by Todd Pletcher, who entered Friday tied for the most career Black-Eyed Susan wins (four). His last victory in this race was in 2014 with Stopchargingmaria.
Pletcher's wait to break the record will continue for at least one more year after Iced Latte crossed the finish line ninth out of 10 horses.
Betting odds listed on America's Best Racing had Beautiful Gift as the favorite coming into the race. She won at Santa Ysabel and finished second to Soothsay at the Santa Anita Oaks event in her first two races this year.
Jarrod Horak of Horse Racing Nation listed some of the other reasons that Beautiful Gift had a lot of hype coming into the biggest race of her career:
"She gamely ran down Moraz in the Santa Ysabel (G3) and missed by a half-length in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) last time. Her winning rider, John Velazquez, strings along, and Bob Baffert has good stats with shippers. She was part of four-horse fields in her last three starts and will need to work out a trip from the far outside post in this much deeper, competitive event."
Beautiful Gift looked to be at a disadvantage starting from gate No. 10, but the far outside post hasn't historically been an issue. Actress won from that same starting spot in 2017.
The move to get out front early may have come back to haunt jockey John Velazquez. The filly faded down the backstretch en route to a career-worst seventh-place showing.