It’s the Journey good right now, plus Challedon Stakes analysis

by | Sep 7, 2017 | Breaking, Maryland, MD Racing, Racing

Matt King Coal

Afleet Willy (#7) just missed in the Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

From a Maryland Jockey Club release

Though R. Larry Johnson’s homebred It’s the Journey has always been consistent, finishing in the top three in 10 of 14 lifetime starts, it’s his current form that led his connections to take another shot at stakes company in Saturday’s $75,000 Challedon at Laurel Park.

The $75,000 Challedon for 3-year-olds and up and the $75,000 Shine Again for fillies and mares 3 and older, both at seven furlongs for non-winners of a sweepstakes, highlight a 12-race program on opening weekend of Laurel’s 60-day fall meet that runs through Dec. 31.

A total of 136 horses were entered on Saturday’s card, an average of 11.3 starters per race. Seven races are scheduled for Laurel’s 142-foot, six-lane, world-class turf course with the remainder over its newly refurbished main track.

First race post time is 1:10 p.m.

It’s the Journey, a gelded 4-year-old son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft bred in Maryland, last tested stakes waters as a 2-year-old, finishing third in the 2015 Maryland Juvenile Futurity in his third lifetime start.

This year, he has won four of eight starts with two seconds and a third, and enters the Challedon on a three-race win streak dating back to mid-June, all at Laurel, where he has a career record of 12-4-3-1.

“He’s been genuine all along, but he’s at a different level now,” trainer Mike Trombetta said. “We tried him two turns and that didn’t seem to be to his liking, and then we backed up and things started going his direction. His last three starts or so he’s kind of really jumped up and been performing at a little bit of a higher level.

“With that being said, in this race he’s going to have to. That’s kind of what happens with these kind,” he added. “This was the logical progression. It’s non-winners of a sweepstakes on a track that he seems to like, so here we are.”

It’s the Journey captured an entry-level allowance against state-breds June 11, then stepped up to win an open company allowance July 7 prior to his most recent effort, a 2 ½-length second-level optional claiming allowance score where he led most of the way under jockey Alex Cintron, who returns to ride from far outside Post 7. All horses will carry 118 pounds.

Trombetta, coming off a summer meet where he led all Laurel trainers with more than $515,973 in purse earnings, has had It’s the Journey throughout his 14-race career but can’t explain the gelding’s recent upward progression.

“I’m not quite sure, to tell you the truth. He’s just really been in a good place and running fast and running hard. I hope he can continue to do so,” he said. “Usually [horses are] faster at 4 than they were at 3 and more at 3 than 2. He’s kind of a little further down the road to really come into his own but it’s not unheard of.”

Summer meet training champion Claudio Gonzalez will send out BB Horses’ Afleet Willy in the Challedon, another hard knocker that has finished first or second in 15 of 21 lifetime starts, eight of them wins. Over the winter at Laurel, the 4-year-old Wilburn gelding made a bid but wound up sixth in the General George (G3) then was beaten a head by Linda Rice-trained Matt King Coal in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial.

“He had run some really hard races and he needed a little break when you run against that competition,” Gonzalez said. “When he lost to the horse of Linda Rice at a mile and an eighth, he gave everything to win the race and he ran big. That’s why I wanted to give him a little time off because he needed it.”

Gonzalez gave Afleet Willy five months between races before bringing him back in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Aug. 14 at Delaware Park, where he was pressed all the way on the front end and stayed up to win by a head as the favorite.

“He ran big that day. They went really fast the first quarter and half a mile, they run in 46 and went really, really fast, and he held on,” Gonzalez said. “For him to not run for a long time and then run that big was good. He came back good after the race and he’s training really good, that’s why we decided to run.”

Afleet Willy will have regular rider Victor Carrasco aboard from Post 6. Carrasco led Laurel’s summer meet standings with 36 victories.

“He has really good position on the outside,” Gonzalez said. “It’s good because he doesn’t need the lead. He doesn’t need to go to the front so if he can be in the clear on the outside it’s going to be perfect for him. There’s a couple of horses that have a lot of speed.”

Also entered in the Challedon are Ivery Sisters Racing’s Anytime Anyplace, racing second off the claim for New York-based trainer David Cannizzo; multiple stakes-placed Rockinn On Bye and Final Prospect, most recently third and seventh, respectively, in the Coalition Aug. 26 at Timonium; Furyofthenorsemen, making his first start since being claimed for $32,000 Aug. 4 by trainer Lacey Gaudet; and Red Dragon Tattoo, fifth in the Jan. 21 Native Dancer in his lone Laurel start.


  1. Rockinn on Bye (6-1) — Bit of a trouble line last out when third in the Coalition Stakes at the Big T but the larger issue with this Stephen Casey trainee is his apparent disinterest in, you know, winning races — he’s working on a 19-race losing streak, hasn’t won since 2015, and has only won six of 47 career starts… He does own two wins at the trip and has been worse than third only twice in 13 7f tries… Look for him to be running late — too late to win but worth using underneath…
  2. Furyofthenorsemen (12-1) – Northern Afleet gelding has done plenty of good work on the lawn and on the main track and here finds his way into the Lacey Gaudet barn for the first time; Gaudet has a 27 percent strike rate off the claim with a crazy $2 ROI of $6.44… This guy ran third last out in an off-the-turf allowance; the last place finisher from that event won his follow-up… Recent dirt form a bit of a concern, as he’s shown gradually declining figs… Jevian Toledo is up….
  3. Red Dragon Tattoo (5-1) — Let’s not judge that last out seventh place finish too harshly — late runners ran one-two and three of four to run back from that rugged contest have won, two in stakes company… Owns a win in his only try at the trip and should be dead fit on the cutback from two turns… Speedster gets blinks here, which feels like gilding the lily a little bit, but he’s not likely to have things his own way up front… With just seven starts (four wins), the Bellamy Road gelding still has plenty of upside… Katie Davis is up…
  4. Final Prospect (30-1) — Wouldn’t sweat the sixth-place finish in the Coalition at TIM too much — this Gary Capuano trainee hasn’t shown much in his bullring starts… Still, recent form isn’t good enough to compete with these… Does own two wins at the trip, but he’s winless in 11 stakes tries and in any race since 1/1/16… Figures a mid-pack trip in here… Carlos Carrasco will try to find something here that no one’s found in a while…
  5. Anytime Anyplace (9-2) — Trainer David Cannizzo goes turf-to-dirt with this Any Given Saturday gelding, and he’s run well on both surfaces… Since blinks were added six back, he’s never been worse than second or more than a length behind at the first call… Will need to carry speed farther than typical, and with other early types in here, that may be a challenge… He’s been claimed in two of three starts, most recently for $62,000 two back when finishing third to Mike Trombetta trainee We Deer You, who won a stake two races after that… Feargal Lynch is up…
  6. Afleet Willy (9-5) — Five months away was no problem for trainer Claudio Gonzalez or Afleet Willy; he ran a monster race last out setting wicked fractions early and holding on late to win going a mile at DEL… That was his second straight big one, as he ran a head-bobbing second to Matt King Coal in the Harrison Johnson, and that rival returned to be second in the G2 Charles Town Classic… Owns a win from two tries at the trip… Can lead or stalk and with other early runners in here, jock Victor Carrasco likely to look to sit third or so and pick up wearying leaders late… Major player in here…
  7. It’s the Journey (5-2) — Well, this guy got good all of a sudden — Trombetta-trained Mineshaft gelding has won four of seven and never finished worse than third since returning from a brief freshening March 21… Owns three straight allowance wins, last out eagerly dusting his rivals… Two-back beaten rival Hickory Hill has won two straight allowances since… Has a win and a third in two tries at the trip and on the stretch-out is likely to be on or just off the pace… Alex Cintron, riding really well, will be up…