Jockeys Feargal Lynch, Nik Juarez dominate Laurel Park graded stakes
by Ted Black
Heading into the Grade 3 Commonwealth Derby this afternoon at Laurel Park, Willie White, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and spokesman for Skeedattle Associates, which owns Just Howard, had some concerns.
Regular pilot Alex Cintron opted to ride at Delaware Park instead of at Laurel on Saturday. Cintron had steered Just Howard to three straight victories heading into the Derby, including narrow scores in the $75,000 Caveat Stakes and $75,000 Find Stakes over the Laurel lawn.
But Graham Motion, Just Howard’s trainer, found a suitable replacement in the irons in Feargal Lynch, who guided the Graham Motion trainee into an ideal spot behind 3-5 favorite Voodoo Song (Jose Lezcano) through the clubhouse turn, stalked the pacesetter from along the rail down the backside and through the far turn, then angled out at the head of the lane and overhauled the odds-on choice in the final 100 yards to score by three parts of a length in 1:45.81, establishing a new track record for the distance over the Kelso Turf course.
It was one of four wins, three in stakes wins, for Lynch on the day.
“I have to admit I was a little concerned when Graham (Motion) told me that Alex was going to Delaware Park to ride something for Larry Jones,” White said. “But we were able to get Feargal, and he’s very good and he was having a great day. Anytime you get any of the top three or four jockeys here you’re okay.”
Just Howard, bred in Maryland by the late Howard Bender, is a son of English Channel out of the Alphabet Soup mare Aruban Sandwich. He lost his first five starts before maturity — and the addition of blinkers — helped him get on track. Now he’s won four straight.
“Like a lot of the English Channels, he just developed slowly and kept getting better,” White said. “He’s getting stronger with every start and he loves this track and he seems to know where the wire is.”
Lynch, whose wins included two graded events, was impressed with Just Howard for both his tactical ability and his finishing kick.
“I knew the four [Voodoo Song] was the horse to follow,” Lynch said. “I wanted to get just behind him through the first turn and just track him as long as I could. He was the speed of the speed in those turf races at Saratoga this summer, so I knew he was going to set the tempo. I stayed just behind him until the top of the lane and then angled outside of him turning for home. I didn’t want to get too close to him because I’ve seen him dig in and fight when another horse gets to him. But my horse finished up really strong and it was a great day.”
Skeedattle Associates purchased Just Howard for a modest $37,000 and promptly named him for his breeder, who frequently would introduce himself as “just Howard.” Just Howard the horse now sports a 4-2-1 slate and nearly $270,000 banked from nine career outings.
Four races prior, in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Oaks, Lynch had the mount on Rymska, a shipper for trainer Chad Brown. In the days leading up to the Oaks, Lynch said he went back and watched the previous race of Rymska, back in February, when she rallied from well off the pace to capture the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Then on Saturday morning, Brown reached out to Lynch and jockey Nik Juarez, who piloted Brown’s other Oaks entrant, Taperge, to a second-place finish in the Oaks, to give them some last-minute advice on how to approach the race.
“I went back and watched her last race in Florida and noticed that [jockey] Joel (Rosario) took her back at the start and just let her run late,” Lynch said. “So that was my plan, and when I spoke to Chad this morning he said she would be better coming from well off the pace. It’s always a pleasure to ride for a trainer like Chad Brown. You know he’s going to have the horses ready to run. All we have to do is keep them out of trouble. She had a lot left turning for home and when I straightened her out she had such acceleration.”
A three-year-old daughter of Le Havre trained by Brown for owners Sheep Pond Partners, et. al., Rymska prevailed for the second time in as many starts this year and more than doubled her seasonal earnings to nearly $140,000. She simply overhauled Taperge in the lane for the solid score while getting the nine furlongs in 1:46.94 to run her record to four wins from seven starts.
“Chad a chance to talk to both riders this morning and both of them rode to instructions,” said Chad Brown’s assistant trainer, Dermot Magner. “This filly (Rykmska) is definitely better coming from off the pace and he rode her perfect. She’s always had a solid closing kick. It’s just been a matter of keeping her in the clear late.”
One race later, it was Juarez who had a turn in the winner’s circle in the revived one-mile version of the Grade II, $200,000 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup for three-year-olds and up.
Juarez guided another Brown trainee Projected, to rally from well off the rapid pace provided by longshot Xmas Sky to score by a length-and-change in 1:34.25 Second in three of his four previous stakes outings, Projected notched his second win in seven starts this year and now owns a 6-7-0 slate and $420,000 banked from 18 career outings and provided a happy homecoming of sorts for Juarez, who began his career here and is the son of trainer Calixto Juarez.
“Really, my only instructions were to take back, save ground and then turn him loose in the lane,” Juarez said. “He was able to save ground and then when I asked him to run he really accelerated. It’s nice to come back to Maryland and ride a winner. Of course, it’s a lot different today then when I rode my first winner here and came back (to the winner’s circle) in the snow. I had some good luck here in the spring back here winning the Black-Eyed Susan. Projected was really good today.”
Juarez had finished second aboard Taperge one race earlier in the Oaks, steering the Brown trainee through a narrow opening at the head of the lane to gain a short lead briefly before being overtaken in the lane by her uncoupled stablemate Rymska.
“My filly had a dream trip along the inside and she ran a great race,” Juarez said. “The other filly just finished so strongly on the far outside. She’s got that type of acceleration. But I thought my filly ran a great race. It’s always a treat to be able to ride anything for Chad Brown. No matter where he sends them you know he’s going to have them ready.”