Laki, Lewfield to square off again in Bender Memorial
Laki. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.
From a Maryland Jockey Club release
Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, last seen finishing second at nearly 12-1 behind multiple graded-stakes winner Switzerland in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) Sept. 22, is set to make his return in a small but competitive field for the $75,000 Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial.
Laki, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Damon Dilodovico, clinched top 3-year-old and up sprint division honors in the revived Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series with his performance in the six-furlong De Francis, finishing just two points away from the overall title.
Winner of the seven-furlong Polynesian Stakes following the disqualification of Lewisfield in his previous start, Laki has earned all six of his wins, including the 2017 Not For Love Stakes, with three seconds in 10 tries over Laurel’s main track.
“He’s doing great. He’s been breezing well moving into the race,” Dilodovico said. “I think they all need a break. He was running pretty well, pretty much once a month against some tough, tough company. I was worried a little bit about breaking up that routine, but I think in the end the break is going to be what’s best for him moving forward.”
The De Francis was the third time in graded company for Laki, who was fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Maryland Sprint (G3) in 2017 and 2018. Horacio Karamanos is named to ride from Post 5.
“We were thrilled with the De Francis. We kind of knew a couple weeks out, just how he was in the barn, that we were going to get a special effort from him. Unfortunately, [Hall of Fame trainer Steve] Asmussen got a special effort from his horse, too. Still, I was thrilled with that and the experience put us on top of his group in the MATCH Series. And he came out of the race well, so it was all good.”
Dilodovico said he considered the six-furlong Fabulous Strike Nov. 21 at Penn National to start Laki’s comeback, but ultimately decided to keep the horse where he is most comfortable.
“I asked the owner about the Fabulous Strike. We kind of talked about it and we nominated to it and we just thought we’ll just wait and run him here,” he said. “It has to be easier than that race and we don’t have to ship. It’s his home track and he loves it here. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, being the freshest of the group maybe he gives us another special effort.”
Charles Town-based Lewisfield ran third as the favorite in the Fabulous Strike, one race after dominating fellow Maryland-breds with an 8 ¾-length romp in the Maryland Million Sprint. Fifth in the De Francis, the 4-year-old Great Notion gelding won the Not For Love in March in his second start this year.
Kathleen Willier’s Greatbullsoffire was a three-time stakes winner at 2, including the Maryland Juvenile Futurity in his season finale, but has made only five starts over the past two years. He raced just once in 2017, a distant eighth in the Coalition Stakes at Timonium, and is winless in four tries this year.
Trainer Hamilton Smith has been encouraged by his recent efforts, where the 4-year-old Bullsbay colt was second in the Maryland Million Sprint and third in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance Nov. 22, a race where he took a short lead into the stretch before he wound up beaten 1 ½ lengths.
“He’s coming around. His last two races were pretty good, I thought. The seven-eighths last time, [jockey Trevor McCarthy] thought he might be better going three-quarters,” Smith said. “It’s a tough spot. It’s a pretty competitive race but we’re going to take a swing at it and see. I think he can hit the board. He’s a nice horse and he’s won some nice races. I think he’ll run well.”
Smith also entered 8-year-old Great Notion gelding Dr. Michael Harrison’s Talk Show Man, a two-time winner of the Maryland Million Turf that never got into contention while finishing last of nine in the 1 1/8-mile Richard W. Small Stakes on dirt Nov. 10.
Sonny Inspired, winner of an off-the-turf Find Stakes Sept. 29 at Laurel; Clubman, third in the Maryland Million Classic Oct. 20; and Fabulous Strike runner-up Rockinn On Bye, making his second start since being claimed by Laurel fall meet-leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez are also entered.