Numerous stakes highlight Laurel Park Winter Carnival of Racing

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Ted Black

February 15th, 2019

With the promise of brief, mild snow showers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region looming on Saturday afternoon, Laurel Park will host five open stakes during its Winter Carnival of Racing that could have a genuine winter feel well before and after post time.

Right at the midway point of the card on Saturday, Laurel will present the $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes for three-year-old cols and geldings at one mile on the main track with several perhaps already looking ahead to a possible berth in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18.

Following a very busy campaign in which he won five of nine starts and earned nearly $200,000, Alwaysmining appears the solid choice in the compact field of six sophomores. A Maryland-bred son of Stay Thirsty trained by Kelly Rubley, Alwaysmining brings a three-race win streak into the Miracle Wood and he has won four times in five starts over the Laurel strip. In his most recent score, the $100,000 Heft Stakes, he defeated Win Win Win who came right back to win the $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs easily in his sophomore debut.

Three of the main threats to Alwaysmining have won their most recent start over the Laurel strip. Wendell Fong graduated in his debut for Jeremiah Englehart, Mount Travers led throughout to defeat allowance foes in the slop in his last outing for trainer Linda Rice and Tybalt rebounded from a 14-length thumping by Alwaysmining in an October allowance to capture a seven-furlong allowance in his sophomore debut last month.

California invader Gray Magician, a Graydar colt trained by Peter Miller, seeks his first tally since breaking his maiden at Del Mar. He has since been fourth in the Grade III Sham Stakes and fifth in a two-turn allowance at Santa Anita. Pennsylvania invader Trainfourtwentyone is also in quest of his first score since garnering his diploma at Penn National in late October.

One race later it will be the three-year-old fillies on display in the $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at seven furlongs. In a decidedly weak event, favoritism could eventually fall to New York shipper Paynterbythenumbers who has already been the beaten favorite in three straight maiden special weight events at Aqueduct for trainer George Weaver. Las Setas and Our Super Freak both sport sharp wins over the strip.

Then one race later in the $100,000 John B. Campbell Stakes for older horses traveling the two-turn distance of nine furlongs precisely once around the Laurel oval, several runners will garner ample support.

Discreet Lover, hero of the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall at Belmont Park and third and fourth in two other Grade I outings last season for trainer Uriah St. Lewis, looms the solid favorite in this bulky field. Discreet Lover won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 45-1 then was eighth in the Breeders Cup Classic at 53-1. He actually kicked off his previous campaign by running third in the $100,000 Harrison Johnson Memorial at Laurel then won the Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct.

Several other stakes winners should get solid backing in the Campbell. Unbridled Juan, hero of the Richard Small Memorial over the strip last fall for trainer Jose Corrales, returns north following a fourth-place effort in the Grade III Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream Park on the undercard of the Grade I, $9 million Pegasus World Cup. General Downs won the $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes here for Rubley last month and Bonus Points captured the Maryland Million Classic by three lengths in the fall of 2017 for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Then one race later in the Grade III, $250,000 General George Stakes for older runners going seven furlongs, there are a number of serious contenders in this bulky field.

Still Having Fun, upset winner of the Grade II, $400,000 Woody Stephens Memorial last summer on Belmont Stakes day and later third in the Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in his seasonal finale, returns to a his home track where he won both the $100,000 Frank Whitely, Jr. Memorial and Miracle Wood Stakes last winter. Honored as the Maryland-bred three-year-old male champion and champion sprinter for 2018 on Tuesday, Still Having Fun has worked smartly for his return and rates a serious contender in the General George for trainer Tim Keefe.

Defending General George champion Something Awesome returns from Florida following a 10th-place effort in the Pegasus for Corrales. The eight-year-old Awesome Again gelding owned by Stronach Stables, parlayed his tally in the General George into victories in the Harrison Johnson and Grade II, $1.2 million Charles Town Classic. But he also seeks his first triumph in 10 months while returning to his home track where he has won four times in six tries.

Several other runners arrive off sharp scores at Laurel. Home Run Maker has won three straight starts over the strip for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, including the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes last month. Uncontested romped home five lengths clear in 1:08 flat in an allowance victory two months ago for trainer Jennifer Patterson. Colonel Sharp won the $100,000 Dave's Friend Stakes in gritty fashion then was fifth in the Grade III Toboggan at Aqueduct. Laki was third in the Dave's Friend but owns two sprint stakes triumphs over the strip for trainer Damon Dilodovico. Cordmaker won the $75,000 Jennings at nine furlongs for trainer Rodney Jenkins and cuts back to seven panels here.

Then one race later in the Grade III, $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Stakes for fillies and mares going seven furlongs, much of the attention will be on Late Night Pow Wow, the superbly talented West Virginia-bred daughter of Fiber Sonde trained by Javier Contreras. Late Night Pow Wow brings a stellar eight-race win streak into the Fritchie, including handy open stakes victories in the $100,000 What A Summer and $100,000 Willa On The Move over the Laurel oval. She has won 10 of 11 starts overall and earned nearly $470,000 along the way.

Just to her inside is California invader Spiced Perfection, game winner of the Grade I La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita last December 26. A four-year-old Smiling Tiger trained by Peter Miller, Spiced Perfection has won two straight sprint stakes and three of her last four outings and boasts a solid 6-4-2 slate and $620,000 bankroll from 14 career tries.

Defending Fritchie heroine Ms Locust Point arrives off a sharp allowance victory at Parx on New Year's Day and she was second to Late Night Pow Wow in the Willa On The Move Stakes for trainer John Servis. Coincidentally, she came into the Fritchie last winter off consecutive victories in the Willa On The Move and the What A Summer, the same two stakes that Late Night Pow Wow won recently in her prep for this lucrative Grade III affair.

Now York invaders Dawn the Destroyer and Honor Way were most recently first and third, respectively, in the $100,000 Interborough Stakes at Aqueduct last month. Shimmering Aspen was beaten favorite in the Willa On The Move following sharp scores in minor stakes at Timonium and Delaware Park. Timeless Curls arrives riding a four-race win streak for trainer Dale Capuano, including the $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes over the strip with champion apprentice jockey Weston Hamilton aboard.