Midnight Poker looks to recapture winning ways in Concern

by | Jul 6, 2018 | Breaking, Maryland, MD Racing, Racing

Whereshetoldmetogo. Photo by HoofprintsInc.com

From a Maryland Jockey Club release

Main Line Racing Stable’s stakes winner Midnight Poker, knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in his last start, looks to get back on the winning track in Saturday’s $75,000 Concern Stakes at Laurel Park.

The seven-furlong Concern for 3-year-olds is one of two stakes on the 11-race program along with the $100,000 Stormy Blues for 3-year-old fillies over Laurel’s world-class turf course, the richest stakes of the 40-day summer meet. First race post time is 1:10 p.m.

A gelded bay son of 2004 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winner Smarty Jones, Midnight Poker won his first four career starts by 14 combined lengths capped by a 1 ¾-length triumph in the seven-furlong Robert Hilton Memorial April 21, run around two turns at Charles Town. Midnight Poker is 2-1 on the morning line for the Concern.

He returned to face fellow Pennsylvania-breds for the first time June 2 at Penn National, making a bid for the lead at the top of the stretch but finishing third, two lengths behind Smooth B, in the six-furlong Danzig Stakes.

“He threw in a little bit of a clunker,” trainer John Servis said. “He did not run his usual numbers, but not taking anything away from the winner. The winner had come off a huge race first-time blinkers and obviously came right back with that. But, I don’t think my horse ran his race either.”

Three of Midnight Poker’s four wins have come in front-running fashion, including the Hilton, and he is two-for-two at the Concern distance. Carol Cedeno will ride for the first time from Post 4 at co-topweight at 122 pounds.

“I’ve never told a rider to put him on the lead. I just let them ride their race and he’s kind of put himself there,” Servis said. “Seven furlongs is no problem for him. I think he likes that actually.”

Servis, who also trained Smarty Jones, has been pleased with the progression of Midnight Poker, whose most recent work went in 1:01.41 for five furlongs June 26 at Parx, second-fastest of 15 horses at the distance. He raced twice at 2, debuting in a 5 ½-furlong maiden claimer last September.

“Actually early on I didn’t think much of him at all. He’s a very small horse and he’s the first foal out of the mare. He had worked OK a couple times but nothing real exciting and that’s why I elected to run him for a tag first time out. He’s just gotten better and better since then.”

Midnight Poker will face a familiar foe in Swilcan Stables’ homebred Navy Commander (9-2), also based at Parx with trainer Butch Reid. Third in the Hilton, beaten two lengths by Midnight Poker, the Poseidon’s Warrior gelding has since finished sixth in the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton over a sloppy track May 19 on the Preakness (G1) undercard, and overcame some late trouble to win an entry-level allowance against fellow Pennsylvania-breds June 12 under Frankie Pennington.

“It was actually pretty scary,” Reid said of the last race. “He was making his move for the lead around the eighth pole and the horse on his inside bumped him into the horse on his outside and knocked Kendrick Carmouche off his horse. It was kind of scary coming through the lane; fortunately he was able to correct himself and get his feet back under him and go ahead and win the race. He showed a lot of guts that day, so I was very impressed with that effort. And Kendrick avoided injury so he was OK.”

Reid said Navy Commander showed no ill effects following the incident, coming back with a sharp half-mile breeze in 47.03 seconds June 30 at Parx, second-fastest of 43 horses at the distance.

“He came out of it great. He’s not a real big horse, but he’s a tough little horse,” Reid said. “You get scared when your horse gets knocked in the side like that because it’s an unnatural way for them to move but he came out of it perfectly and just had a tremendous little breeze the other day … so he’s coming up to the race in good shape.”

The Concern will be the 11th career start for Navy Commander, three-for-six in 2018 after needing four tries to break his maiden. His first two victories this year came by 18 combined lengths, the first coming at seven furlongs Feb. 27.

“Seven furlongs I think is right in his wheelhouse. He doesn’t need to be on the lead but he’s got good natural speed so he can sit up close. He likes that one turn,” Reid said. “The Charles Town race for him was a little confusing because it was two turns and he kind of wasn’t sure what to do and he got trapped down on the inside, but he put in a solid effort anyway. I think seven-eighths is the perfect distance for him.

“[His experience] certainly helps him because he was a horse that wasn’t real sharp at the beginning of his career. He’s really picked things up and come right along,” he added. “He used to be one-dimensional on the lead but I don’t think he needs the lead anymore. He’s really learned.”

Mychel Sanchez has the call on Navy Commander from the rail at 118 pounds.

Jacks or Better Farm’s Grade 3-placed homebred Old Time Revival (8-1) looks to snap a seven-race losing streak in the Concern, having finished last of seven as the favorite in a one-mile allowance June 9 at Laurel. Based at Laurel with trainer Ken Decker, Old Time Revival was second in both the Miracle Wood Feb. 17 at Laurel and Gotham (G3) March 10 at Aqueduct.

Also entered are Whereshetoldmetogo, winner of the 2017 First State Dash who ran fifth in the Gotham and fourth in the Hilton; Hilton and James W. Murphy runner-up Threes Over Deuces; Birdies Honor and Make the Rules.