Schoenthal hoping Sonny Inspired delivers on Maryland’s “best day”
by Ted Black
After a rather nondescript campaign in 2015 in which he won only two allowance races from 10 starts, Sonny Inspired kicked off his current season by winning both the Fire Plug and Ben’s Cat Stakes at Laurel Park with a solid, third-place finish in the Grade 3 General George Stakes sandwiched in between. Those three efforts in sprints gave trainer Phil Schoenthal optimism that Sonny Inspired would be peaking for the Maryland Sprint Handicap at Pimlico on Preakness Day.
But Schoenthal realized that Sonny Inspired would not have an ideal spot to run in the eight weeks between the Ben’s Cat and the Maryland Sprint, so he opted to try his one-turn sprint specialist in the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic at the three-turn distance of one-mile and one-eighth over the West Virginia oval. As expected, Sonny Inspired displayed plenty of early speed but he had nothing to offer late and faded to eighth, roughly eight lengths behind Stanford.
“After running nine furlongs and navigating three turns at Charles Town, he has only been galloping but he’s been eating up his feed,” Schoenthal said of Sonny Inspired, who will head into the Maryland Sprint with a 6-6-7 slate and just over $380,000 banked from 30 career outings. “He will probably have a workout on Wednesday morning at Laurel. There really wasn’t anywhere to run him after the Ben’s Cat, so we figured we would take a shot in the Charles Town Classic and see what happened. He didn’t run poorly, he just got tired.”
So this Saturday afternoon, while much of the nation’s attention will be squarely focused on the Grade I Preakness Stakes for three-year-olds at one-mile and three-sixteenths where Nyquist will look to keep his Triple Crown hopes and unblemished record in tact following his determined score in the Kentucky Derby, Schoenthal will be among the numerous Maryland trainers looking to garner at least minor spoils in the Maryland Sprint with Sonny Inspired. Several logical contenders include invaders Salutos Amigos, the even money favorite, Parx shipper Always Sunshine (7-2), and speedy Cinco Charlie (3-1).
“I’ve always said that the best day for any Maryland trainer to win a race is Preakness day,” Schoenthal said. “I’ve talked it over with Matthew Dorman [Sonny Inspired’s onwer] and we’ve always agreed that if we ever got a real, top-notch three-year-old our main focus would be the Preakness Stakes. Unless you go on the Derby trail and get the points, you’re not going to make the Derby. But for me and any Maryland owner or trainer there’s nothing better than winning a race on Preakness Day. We won’t have one in the Preakness, but we’ll be in one of the stakes that day.”
A five-year-old Artie Schiller gelding bred by Charles and Cynthia McGinnes of Thornmar Farm near Chestertown, Maryland, Sonny Inspired was purchased by D Hatman Thoroughbreds for $20,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic 2012 Eastern Fall Yearling Sale. Prior to this season, he had earned the bulk of his success in allowance events. He garnered his diploma in his third career outing against maiden special weight foes on Oct. 9, 2013 at Laurel Park, but required more than a year to notch his second tally against allowance foes on Nov. 1, 2014 at Laurel.
Sonny Inspired won two more allowance races that winter, taking one on Jan. 3, 2015 at Laurel and another six weeks later on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. But he spent much of the remainder of the season in stakes races on dirt and turf where his best effort was a third-place finish behind Ben’s Cat in the Mister Diz Stakes and then a fifth-place finish in the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on the main track at Laurel.
After a modest fourth-place finish in another allowance event at Laurel last December, Schoenthal put blinkers, which he’d taken off the horse several races previously, back on. That seemed to do the trick.
Sonny Inspired kicked off his current campaign with a 12-1 upset in the $75,000 Fire Plug Stakes at Laurel, prevailing by nearly two lengths in 1:10.85 for the six furlongs. At the time, Schoenthal planned to bypass the General George and return two months later for the Ben’s Cat, but he changed plans to sent the Artie Schiller gelding into the seven-furlong affair where he finished a respectable third behind Page McKenney and Majestic Affair.
Sonny Inspired then went postward as the even-money favorite in the Ben’s Cat, named for the multi-millionaire trained by Hall of Fame conditioner King T. Leatherbury. Oddly enough, Sonny Inspired won the Ben’s Cat during the same weekend in which the race’s namesake was back in training for his 10-year-old campaign. Sonny Inspired covered the six panels in 1:11.23 to win the inaugural edition of the Ben’s Cat, while the race’s namesake has since won his seasonal debut over the Laurel turf and is also on target for another appearance in the Jim McKay Stakes on the Pimlico grass this weekend.
“I was a little surprised when they all stacked up like that on the front end,” Schoenthal said after the Ben’s Cat. “I thought Gursky [who Schoenthal also trains] was going to the lead because that was our plan. Sonny was closer than we thought.”
Sonny Inspired had only one four-furlong breeze in the five weeks between the Ben’s Cat and the Charles Town Classic and he will go into the Maryland Sprint with one modest workout in the four weeks since the Classic. But Sonny Inspired will be back at his primary distance of six furlongs where he has won three times in seven tries and banked over $140,000 thanks largely to his two stakes scores this past winter and he would not mind the arrival of more inclement weather this weekend. He owns a 3-2-2 slate and over $150,000 banked in eight tries on an off track.
“We tried him on the turf a couple of years ago on Preakness Day, but we were still trying to figure him out then,” Schoenthal said. “Being by Artie Schiller, we thought the turf would be his best surface. But he never really took to it. He’s doing really good now in these one-turn sprints. I had a little luck with [multiple graded stakes winner] Miss Behaviour a few years ago in the Miss Preakness Stakes on Black-Eyed Susan Day, so I’m hoping that Sonny Inspired runs his best race for us this Saturday.”