Locals set to take swing at General George
Laki defeated Rockinn on Bye (#2) and Lewisfield to win the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial. Photo by Dottie Miller.
Just about a year ago, Something Awesome walked out of his Laurel Park stall and became a graded stakes winner, rallying to win the Grade 3 General George for his — and trainer Jose Corrales’ — first graded triumph.
He’s entered to defend his General George title Saturday at Laurel Park. But this time, he won’t possess any “home court advantage,” as no fewer than eight runners based at Laurel are among the 14 entered in the $250,000, seven-furlong contest.
Perhaps it’s to be expected. After all, a Maryland trainer with a decent horse has to give at least a cursory glance at a race with the prestige — and purse — of the General George. In fact, three of the last five General George winners — Something Awesome, 2016 victor Page McKenney, and 2014 champ Bandbox, now a Maryland-based sire — were Maryland-based runners.
Still, it’s quite a bumper crop of locals. While it’s not uncommon for Maryland stakes to have a critical mass of New York-based runners, this time, that’s not an issue; only two of the 14 entered will be heading south from the Empire State on Saturday.
The favorite in the race is the locally-based Still Having Fun, who’s been installed at 9-2 by linemaker Keith Feustle. The second favorite is also a local runner; that’d be Something Awesome, who made his last start in the Grade 1, $9 million Pegasus World Cup.
“In the Pegasus, the horse came for the last five-sixteenths and was making a good move and got squeezed in between two horses and did not finish the way he can finish,” Corrales said in a release. “To me, the horse was not tired. I think maybe it took the air out of him. You’re competing with the best horses in the country and any little thing that happen in the trip is going to take away from what you can do.”
He’s 5-1 on the morning line for the General George and will leave from the 13-hole with regular pilot Edgar Prado up. He was 3-1 in this event a year ago.
“It’s a little short from his last run, but the horse has come back in really good form,” Corrales said. “He’ll have to get warmed up a little bit more before the race, but I think he can be there close and I think he can make it. He’ll be fine.”
Last year’s General George triumph was Corrales’ first graded win as a trainer, and it kicked off a three-race win streak for Something Awesome that culminated with a neck victory in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. That’s his most recent victory.
“The General George was special because it was my first graded-stakes win and I got to win a stakes for the Stronachs at their racetrack,” Corrales said. “The other thing was my nephew [Elvis Trujillo] was riding and my mother was here for it, so it made it even more special.”
A pair of runners are 6-1 on the morning line: Uncontested for trainer Jenn Patterson and another local, the hard-hitting Laki, fresh off being named 2018 Maryland-bred champion older male.
Laki, trained at Laurel by Damon Dilodovico for Hillside Equestrian Meadows, owns seven wins from 11 starts at Laurel Park, so he’ll certainly feel right at home. Laki was third in his last start, in the six-furlong Dave’s Friend Stakes on December 29.
“I think we definitely benefit from the home course,” Dilodovico said in a release. “He’s doing very good. I kind of feel like maybe I rushed him into the last race. He had run so well early in the month and it just seemed like he came out of the previous race so well, [but] maybe I ran him back too quick and it showed in the race. It wasn’t like him to give that kind of effort. We just let him regroup. He’s been training very well for us. We got a nice little breeze into him the other day and he came out of it well. Hopefully we can get him back to the form where he was last fall.”
That form included a win — via disqualification — in the seven-furlong Polynesian Stakes and a strong runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Since returning from a 10-month break in March 2018, Laki, a gelded son of Cuba, has won three of nine starts and finished in the money four other times, while earning over $220,000. He also secured the 2018 male sprint division championship in the rejuvenated MATCH Series. He will have regular pilot Horacio Karamanos in the irons.
Another local in single digits is Home Run Maker (8-1), trained by Jeremiah Englehart for Jeff Drown. Since moving south from New York, the four-year-old Into Mischief colt has posted three consecutive wins after a near-miss third, and last out he secured a mild upset in the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes January 12. Jorge Vargas, Jr. will ride, just days after being named top Maryland-based jockey of 2018.
“He’s been a horse that’s put a few races together now, kind of like we thought he was going to do as a 2-year-old. He’s just matured well and when he started winning I guess he started liking what he was doing,” Englehart said in a release. “He’s been a pretty nice horse to have around the barn. He’s just been very honest every time.”
Trainer Rodney Jenkins and owner Hillwood Stable LLC teamed up to win the General George five years back with Bandbox. That runner was 13-1 at post time. They’ll take a similarly big swing Saturday with Cordmaker, who’s 15-1 on the morning line.
The four-year-old Curlin gelding enters in the best form of his career, and last out he rallied from well off the pace to win the one-mile Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds at Laurel Park to secure the first added-money win of his career. That’s the same running style that Bandbox employed in his General George triumph.
“This horse run a beautiful race the last time,” Jenkins said in a release. “He impressed me and he seems to be training as good now as he was then, so I’d like to give the horse a shot,” trainer Rodney Jenkins said. “I think the horse is coming all the time. I think he’s a horse that’s on the improve. If he can put up a good showing, we’d be happy.”
He’ll have Alex Cintron in the irons.
Other locally based runners include Dave’s Friend winner Colonel Sharp (12-1) for trainer Hugh McMahon and a pair for leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez, the speedy Moe Trouble (20-1) and late-running Rockinn on Bye (15-1).