“Bits and pieces” coming together for maturing Laki
by Frank Vespe
Cuba hasn’t exactly made a big splash as a stallion. The son of Not for Love, whose first runners hit the track last year, has just two winners to date.
But yesterday, in the race named for his father, Cuba hit it big when his son Laki grabbed the lead nearing the lane and surged to a 1 3/4 length victory over the late-running Sonny Inspired to win the inaugural edition of the $75,000 Not for Love Stakes, a six-furlong test for Maryland-bred or -sired runners four-years-old and up.
The win was Laki’s first in stakes company and fourth straight overall. It was also the first stakes winner for Cuba.
“We thought he was all right [before his first start],” said Laki’s trainer Damon Dilodovico. “But I didn’t think he was going to win four races in a row.”
Laki debuted for a $25,000 tag on the turf in November, trailing the field throughout. Dilodovico said he didn’t really want to run his charge on the turf — Cuba did his best work, including a win in the 2008 Maryland Million Classic, on the main track — but wanted to get a race into him.
That day, he was nearly 22 lengths behind after three-eighths of a mile — “I thought he was going to get beat a hundred lengths,” the trainer recalled — before rallying to within a dozen of the leader. In his next start, on the main track but again in for a $25,000 claiming tag, Laki galloped to an easy five-length win at 19-1 odds.
Yesterday, Nicaradalic Rocks left the gate running and established the early lead, with Laki, under Horacio Karamanos, his nearest pursuer. Those two led the field through a quarter mile in 22.94 seconds and a half in 45.96 while going well clear of the rest of the field.
By mid-turn, Laki was slicing into Nicaradalic Rocks’s lead — down to a head after a half-mile — and soon after entering the lane, he put that rival away. The only late challenge came from Sonny Inspired, who chopped four lengths off his deficit in the last quarter mile but could never pose a true threat to the winner. Nicaradalic Rocks held third. Running time for the six furlongs was a sharp 1:09.56
It was just the latest step in a maturation process still in progress for Laki.
“He’s a June foal,” Dilodovico said of the four-year-old. “Like [jockey] Horacio [Karamanos] said, he’s still a baby, he really is. He kind of picks up little things each race.”
After breaking his maiden, Laki followed that score with wins in a starter allowance and then in a first-level allowance contest in which he bested 2016 Maryland Million Sprint winner Nicaradalic Rocks.
Yesterday, he took another big step forward. The runner-up, Sonny Inspired, is a graded stakes-placed earner of more than $430,000.
Dilodovico deflected much of the credit to Karamanos, the veteran jockey who is in the midst of an outstanding season.
“Horacio gives us all the confidence in the world,” Dilodovico said. “After each race he’s just given me so much information.”
For Dilodovico, the win stirred up memories of another late-maturing campaigner of his, Love’s Strong Hart. That runner — yes, by Not for Love — earned over $500,000 in his career, second most, to Immortal Eyes, of any Dilodovico trainee.
Love’s Strong Hart didn’t earn the first stakes win of his career until the age of seven and enjoyed his best season the following year at age eight.
Laki, of course, is well ahead of that pace, though he didn’t make it to a race until that November tilt, near the end of his sophomore season.
“As he was coming along, he would show bits and pieces of athleticism here and there, but nothing consistently,” Dilodovico said. “He was showing more in between the workouts than he was during the works.”
Now, Laki, bred in Maryland by Tom Michaels and Lorna Baker and owned by Hillside Equestrian Meadows, is showing plenty, and not just between his works. He’s showing up, and showing up big, in the afternoons.
A likely long-term goal for Laki is October’s Maryland Million. In the meantime, there are plenty of options. Next up might be another stakes foray or, if warranted — “If he comes out of it a little tired, beat up,” his trainer said — a drop back into allowance company.
Either way, for Laki — and perhaps Cuba, for that matter — the win is yet another demonstration of the value of a quality perhaps more often observed in the breach: patience.
“It’s all coming together for him,” Dilodovico said.