Page McKenney returns with Native Dancer win
Page McKenney returned a winner in the Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
by Frank Vespe
Mary Eppler was all smiles in the Laurel Park winner’s circle Saturday afternoon.
“It’s great,” the veteran trainer said. “It’s great. He’s back.”
Page McKenney, the seven-year-old Eavesdropper gelding she trains for Adam Staple and Jalin Stable, is, indeed, back. And it’s like he never left.
In the $75,000 Native Dancer Stakes, Page McKenney, with regular pilot Horacio Karamanos in the irons, defended his title by storming to an emphatic 1 3/4 length score over a salty field that included multiple graded stakes champ Kid Cruz, 13-time winner Charitable Annuity, and talented Red Dragon Tattoo.
Now, said Eppler, it’s on to either the John B. Campbell Stakes or the Grade 3 General George Stakes, both at Laurel Park on February 18. Page McKenney won the former in 2014 and skipped it last year when he won the latter.
“I think he is [all the way back],” Eppler said. “This race really helped, tightened him up a little bit.”
Page McKenney’s previous race had come last April when he was second in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. Just prior to last May’s Pimlico Special, he came down with an inflamed tendon, causing Eppler to scratch him and necessitating time on the sidelines to recover. Returned to Eppler’s barn in November, Page McKenney had been breezing steadily to prepare for his return.
In the 1 1/16 mile Native Dancer, Page McKenney broke alertly to be just off the top pair of longshot Warrioroftheroses and second choice Red Dragon Tattoo in the early running. Karamanos said he’d hoped to sit back behind the leaders and bide his time.
“He was rank,” said the jockey. “I put him right behind the 3, [but] he was rank and rank. I said OK, I don’t want it so much.”
With a laugh, he added, “I’m tired from holding my horse.”
Warrioroftheroses held a 1 1/2 length lead after a half-mile in a modest 48.88 seconds and still led by a half-length after three quarters in 1:13.73. Page McKenney was in second at both markers.
Karamanos steered Page McKenney to the outside for clear running, and Red Dragon Tattoo ceded the lead to Warrioroftheroses. Nearing the quarter pole, Page McKenney moved smartly to the lead but was immediately confronted by longshot Cosmic Destiny.
Feeling the right-handed stick from Karamanos, Page McKenney spurted clear and went on to the victory. “A really, really nice race,” Karamanos called it.
The very late-running Bodhisattva closed from 23 lengths back after the opening quarter mile to finish second, just nosing out Cosmic Destiny, who held third. Running time for the about 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.01.
Page McKenney paid $4.80 to win as the 7-5 favorite. But, with 31-1 Bodhisattva in second and 79-1 Cosmic Destiny in third, the exacta was good for $100.80 and the triple returned $1,180.
Page McKenney, out of the Yarrow Brae mare Winning Grace, was bred in Pennsylvania by Dr. James E. Bryant and Linda P. Davis, the “Ja” and “Lin” of Jalin Stable.
One race prior to the Native Dancer, Matthew Schera’s Winter swept to the lead around the far turn and powered down the stretch to a 2 ¾-length victory in the $75,000 Nellie Morse, her first career stakes win and the third in a row for jockey Trevor McCarthy.
A 4-year-old daughter of Awesome Again, Winter ($9.40) ran about 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.32. Parx shipper Addibel Lightning was second, with 14-1 long shot Moon River third. Bawlmer Hon, the 8-5 favorite, wound up fifth behind Alpine Sky, like the winner also trained by Cal Lynch.
“There were a couple of fillies in there that were tough. My other filly I thought if she didn’t get in trouble at the three-eighths pole, she’s third,” Lynch said. “The winner is just a good horse. Mr. Schera has given us some really nice horses and we’re just trying to do our part and keep bringing them over here.”
McCarthy gave Winter a clear path on the outside from Post 3 as Bawlmer Hon and Moon Virginia set fractions of 24.19 and 48.07 seconds. Winter cruised past the leaders leaving the backstretch and kept rolling for her second consecutive win and third in four starts since joining Lynch.
“She was training well. Cal’s done a super job with her,” McCarthy said. “Once I got her to the outside on the first turn I was really happy with the position. Just past the half-mile pole I was being really patient with her. I was worried somebody was going to come up on the outside of her. It’s not her favorite thing to be inside. She likes to be out and kind of do her own thing. Once I got here there she was making a nice move on the turn and I was just waiting to let her loose in the stretch and she went on with it.”