Maryland-bred shine on dirt, turf and stonedust

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

August 20th, 2018

On the weekend that Laurel Park hosted Maryland Pride Day which featured four stakes for Maryland-breds on both urf and dirt and included the latest two inductees for the Maryland-bred Hall of Fame, a trio of standardbreds the state has produced also garnered lucrative stakes scores.

Sunday afternoon at Tioga Downs in upstate New York, Courtly Choice (David Miller) easily lived up to his role as the 2-5 favorite in the $272,000 Empire Breeders Classics final for three-year-old colt pacers when he gained command in a 26.4 opener, got a breather by the half in 54.4, shook off token pressure from American History (Yannick Gingras) by three-quarters in 1:21.1 then romped home three lengths clear in 1:48.3 to establish a new stakes and track record.

A sophomore son of Art Major owned and trained by Blake Macintosh and bred by Winbak Farms in Chesapeake City, Maryland, Courtly Choice notched his eighth win in 11 starts this year and pushed his seasonal earnings toward $620,000. He is clearly the division leader at this point and looms a serious contender for pacer of the year and possibly horse of the year depending on how well he fares over the latter portion of the season. Hambletonian winner Atlanta looms the early favorite for trotter of the year and horse of the year.

One day earlier at Laurel Park on an afternoon when past Maryland-bred champions El Gran Senor and Caesar's Wish were formally inducted into the Maryland-bred thoroughbred Hall of Fame, the track offered a quartet of $75,000 stakes. One of them is named for a horse already in the Maryland-bred Hall of Fame and two other stakes were named in honor of horses that could join that elite group sometime in the next decade.

Saturday's first stakes was the $75,000 Ben's Cat, named in honor of the late, great King T. Leatherbury-trained homebred who won 32 of 65 races and earned nearly $3 million and looms a lock for the Maryland-bred Hall of Fame during the early 2020's. Sonny Inspired, who won the inaugural edition of the Ben's Cat Stakes two years earlier, rallied from just off the pace to forge a 9-1 upset in the latest renewal of the six-furlong affair on the grass by getting the distance in 1:08.95.

A seven-year-old Artie Schiller gelding trained by Phil Schoenthal for owner D Hatman Thoroughbreds, Sonny Inspired notched his second win in eight starts this year and now owns a modest 10-7-10 slate and $560,000 banked from 52 career tries. Much of his success over the years has come on the main track, but Sonny Inspired has won three times and earned nearly $150,000 in 15 outings on the lawn in his career.

Then two races later on the card, Majestic Reason (Jorge Vargas, Jr.) rallied from just off the pace to overhaul the tiring Zorally in the lane for a two-length score in the $75,000 Miss Disco Stakes for three-year-old fillies. The sophomore daughter of Majestic Warrior owned and bred by Ellen Charles and trained by Graham Motion recorded her first stakes tally and her second win in three tries overall after getting the six furlongs on the main track in 1:10.80.

Then one race later in the $75,000 Jameela Stakes for Md-bred fillies and mares at six furlongs on the lawn and named for a mare that was among the initial 12 inductees into the Md-bred Hall of Fame, Rocky Policy (Daniel Centeno) posted a mild upset by outlasting the late bid of 8-5 favorite Crabcakes for a two-length score in 1:08.78, a slightly faster clocking than the boys posted in the Ben's Cat.

A five-year-old Slide mare trained by Dale Capuano, Rocky Policy earned her first victory in 10 tries on the grass and she now owns a 5-4-4 slate and $240,000 banked from 27 career outings overall. She had been second three times and third twice in her nine previous efforts on the grass and that experience on the lawn gave her an edge over Crabcakes, who was making her turf debut after winning seven of 12 starts on the main track for trainer Bernie Houghton. She is also the defending Maryland Million Distaff Handicap champion.

Then two races later in the $75,000 Star De Naskra Stakes for Md-bred three-year-old colts and geldings and named in honor of a horse that won 15 of 36 starts, including a pair of Grade II stakes - the Whitney and Carter Handicap - that are now Grade I events, Whereshetoldmetogo (Jeremy Rose) lived up to his role as the 1-2 choice when he rallied belatedly to score by two lengths in 1:09.11. It was his second straight stakes score, third straight victory overall and he now owns a 6-2-0 slate and $260,000 banked from 14 career outings for the Black Cloud Stable.

One night earlier on the Friday card at Vernon Downs in upstate New York, Met's Hall (Andy Miller) forged a 13-1 upset in the $350,000 Harry M. Zweig Memorial for three-year-old trotters when he outlasted the late surge of Manchego (Gingras) to score by a nose in 1:52. A sophomore son of Cantab Hall bred by Winbak Farm and trained by Julie Miller, Met's Hall notched his second win in six starts this year and the Hambletonian runner-up has earned over $450,000 this season.

Then on Sunday morning at Laurel Park, Still Having Fun completed his final preparations for the upcoming Grade I, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes at Saratoga Race Course this Saturday when he breezed four furlongs in 48.2. A Maryland-bred sophomore son of Old Fashioned trained by Tim Keefe, Still Having Fun has been idle since winning the Grade II, $400,000 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day in June, but he has four good workouts underneath him and will arrive with three wins and $390,000 banked from six starts this year and a serious contender in the seven-furlong affair on the undercard of the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes.