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Army Wife springs Black-Eyed Susan upset at Pimlico

Army Wife and Joel Rosario challenge Lady Traveler down the homestretch at Pimlico and pull away to win the 2021 Black-Eyed Susan.

BALTIMORE -- Army Wife pulled off a mild upset in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday at Pimlico Race Course as embattled trainer Bob Baffert’s favored Beautiful Gift finished a well-beaten seventh.

Mike Maker, a former assistant trainer for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, saddled the winner. Army Wife beat Willful Woman by 2 3/4 lengths for her third victory and first in a graded stakes and Maker’s first Black-Eyed Susan.

“She had been a hard-luck horse,” said Maker, who also won the Pimlico Special on the undercard with Last Judgment. “Her whole career it seems like always something happens. But today, it worked out great.”

Jockey Joel Rosario rode the winner, who enjoyed a smooth rail trip for most of the running, though he had to check lightly to find a seam between two competitors.

“She’s a really nice horse - it seemed like she was getting really good over the track,” Rosario said. “One point she looked around a little bit, but she was really great after that.”

“The rail seems like a good spot to be today,” Maker said. “Got the 1-hole and Joel did his usual good job.”

Army Wife, who went off at 9-2, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.63 and paid $11, $5.80 and $4. The 3-year-old filly earned $150,000 to more than double her career earnings.

Beautiful Gift was cleared to run less than an hour before the race after Baffert agreed to submit to additional testing and monitoring for his horses following Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed postrace drug test. Medina Spirit and fellow Preakness runner Concert Tour also passed the three rounds of prerace testing mandated by Maryland racing officials.

“Obviously, we are disappointed,” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Baffert, who said jockey John Velazquez said Beautiful Gift simply didn’t respond when asked for more run. “We thought she would run a little better.” Velazquez also has the mount on Medina Spirit in the Preakness.

Friday’s racing came on a brilliant spring day in the wake of Thursday’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control to relax COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated persons, and most fans took advantage of the newly relaxed rules. But attendance was capped at 10,000 spectators, just a fraction of typical Preakness weekend levels.

Saturday’s Preakness Stakes returns to its traditional mid-May spot on the racing calendar after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the race to October last year.