Laurel Park picks and ponderings Mar. 16, 2019
by Frank Vespe
In which we pick the races from Laurel Park each day…
Post time: 1:10 p.m.
Carryovers: Rainbow 6 — $17,201; Super Hi-5 — $2,591
Stat of the day: According to its website, the Laurel Park track record for 1 1/4 miles is 1:59 4/5, set by Richie the Coach on November 23, 1996. That distance has rarely – never? – been run since but will be back in operation today with race six, a $16,000 starter handicap (with a $65,000 purse) going 1 1/4 miles. Whirlin Curlin is the 9-2 morning line favorite.
We’re doing things a bit differently today and digging in more detail into the five stakes. Selections for all races are, as always, at right.
RACE 5: HARRISON JOHNSON MEMORIAL STAKES
- 1 1/8 miles, $100,000 purse
The seven-horse Harrison Johnson brings together a salty group of runners, with four of them having earned at least $450,000 in their career. Three of these saw each other in the John B. Campbell last out.
#1 Twisted Tom (5-2) gets the nod as the favorite off a couple of solid tries in NY-bred company. The Bill Mott trainee has a demonstrated affinity for Laurel, with two 2017 wins in two tries over the strip, and he loves this nine-furlong trip (5:3-1-0 mark). He just missed two back in the Alex M. Robb, and winner Mr. Buff took the Jazil in his follow-up.
Three from last month’s John B. Campbell are also here. Those include the winner, #3 Bonus Points (4-1), who rallied down the center of the track to get the money in a three-way duel; #4 Unbridled Juan (3-1), who made the lead midway through the stretch before settling for third; and #7 General Downs (6-1), who made a bit of a middle move on the outside before flattening out to be fourth.
One other runner of note in here is #6 Cordmaker (5-1). The Rodney Jenkins trainee was outfooted in a fast renewal of the G3 General George last out but here catches a group that looks a bit more manageable. And the son of Curlin should appreciate the added ground on offer here. He’ll have solid local rider Victor Carrasco up here, though it’s worth noting that Alex Cintron rode him last out and lands on Unbridled Juan in this spot.
In the end we’re going to go with Unbridled Juan as our top selection. He ran a very game race last out, up close to a fast pace for the distance and staying on willingly to the end in a race in which two closing sorts ran one-two, and he finished well clear of the other early types. That race had a couple of confirmed front-runners to heat up the pace, while in this one, he ought to find a comfortable spot behind likely early leader John Jones before making his move. Cintron is up for Jose Corrales.
- RACE 1
- SCR: 3, 5, 7
- RACE 2
- SCR: 1
- RACE 3
RACE 7 – BEYOND THE WIRE STAKES
- 1 mile, $100,000 purse
Three-year-old fillies square off in this one-mile test, with one of the great hunch plays of all time: can you really bet against #2 Itjusthitthe Wire (5-1) in the Beyond the Wire?
No, of course, not.
The favorite in this fairly wide open spot is #7 Las Setas (3-1). The Katy Voss trainee upset the Wide Country Stakes last month at 9-1, getting a front-running journey and powering home easily. A similar scenario is entirely in the realm of possibility in this one-turn mile contest. Jevian Toledo will once again ride the improving daughter of Seville.
The only runner who perhaps has the zip to deny Las Setas the lead, in fact, is Itjusthitthewire. She led throughout to break her maiden last out in a seven-furlong test at Gulfstream, though it’s a little unclear what she beat. She went off the 2-1 favorite despite arriving with a pair of middling efforts, and runners from that contest are a combined 0-for-5 since. Trevor McCarthy will ride.
Another runner with a bit of intrigue here is #5 Afleet Destiny (7-2). The Uriah St. Lewis trainee has been second and third in two stakes tries, one in the G2 Demoiselle, and might find the one-turn trip to her liking here. She’s also showing three works since her last start, so should be fit.
Still, we’ll take Las Setas in here. She’s improving, formful, and may be the speed of the speed – and if not, trainer Voss believes she can sit off a horse and still win. If she’s right, this one figures to have too many weapons at a reasonable price.
- RACE 4
- SCR: 8
- RACE 5
- SCR: 5
- RACE 6
- SCR: 12
RACE 8 – PRIVATE TERMS STAKES
- About 1 1/16 miles, $100,000
The waters get deeper here in this two-turn test, the next local step towards the Preakness on the third Saturday in May.
The deserving favorite in here is #3 Alwaysmining (4-5). This guy has run off a four-race win streak, generally without being challenged, and has a chance to run it to five here. Last out, he took the Miracle Wood easily after setting modest early fractions and drawing away. Regular pilot Daniel Centeno here makes the voyage up from Tampa Bay Downs to retain this mount for trainer Kelly Rubley, which perhaps tells you what you need to know about this son of Stay Thirsty, whose breeding suggests the two-turn trip shouldn’t be an issue.
His biggest challenge here might come from #4 Joevia (7-2) – but what a challenge it might be. This Greg Sacco trainee won at first asking at Monmouth in July, besting Mooji Moo Jr. that day; that runner returned to win the Tyro Stakes in his next start. This guy didn’t run again until February 9, when he showed up at 18-1 in the Jimmy WInkfield Stakes at Aqueduct, a race in which he broke slowly, rushed up inside, took the lead, and fought it out all the way to the wire before, in the last jumps, ceding the win spot to Haikal. All that runner did was come back to win the G3 Gotham last out. Joevia, making just his second start since July, can easily move forward in this spot, and while sire Shanghai Bobby never won past 1 1/16 miles, that may not be an issue here.
Let’s try Joevia for the minor upset, but if Alwaysmining wins, let’s root him on to bigger and better things.
RACE 9 — CONNIVER STAKES
- 7 furlongs, $75,000 (Md-bred/sired)
A big field of state-bred fillies and mares will slug it out here, and the hard-hitting #6 Anna’s Bandit (5-2). The Jerry Robb trainee has zoomed past $325,000 in career earnings, having won last out going 5 ½ furlongs. She also won this race a year ago and has never been worse than third in five tries at the distance. Regular pilot Xavier Perez will ride, and this one comes out of a race that’s produced two next-out winners.
Anna’s Bandit led throughout in her last start, which also was the case for #4 Enchanted Ghost (4-1), who took that route – and setting moderate fractions – to win the Maryland Racing Media Stakes in a big effort. She won’t get the lead in here – Anna’s Bandit is joined by confirmed early runners #7 Le Weekend (12-1) and #9 Limited View (20-1) as likely to be forwardly placed early – but then again, she doesn’t need it. In fact, her only prior seven-furlong try came in last year’s Wide Country, in which she rallied from third to win.
Another runner who offers some intrigue here is #11 No Picnic (15-1). She’ll be making her first start for trainer Marya Montoya, who claimed her last out from Kate DeMasi; Montoya wins at a nine percent clip first off the claim. There’s certainly cause for concern here; after No Picnic won a two-other-than in November, she made her next start for $16,000, which she won and was claimed by DeMasi. Last out, she ran just so-so against two-other-than foes. But she has some better efforts to run back to, loves this trip (6:4-0-1) and gets Daniel Centeno in the irons.
We’ll land on Enchanted Ghost for the top spot. She’s won at the trip, should be dead fit while cutting back in distance, and owns a recency edge over runners like Anna’s Bandit.
RACE 10 – NOT FOR LOVE STAKES
- 6 furlongs, $75,000 (Md-bred/sired)
There’s a short field here – just six entered – but what a rugged one it is, featuring the multiple-G3-placed #5 Laki (9-5), G3-placed B#2 Lewisfield (5-2), and the hard-hitting late runner #3 Rockinn On Bye (7-2). And that’s to say nothing of #4 Struth (5-1), who makes his return here after being away nearly a year.
Struth is, in fact, the most intriguing runner here. When right, he ran competitively with these sorts, swapping decisions with Lewisfield. He hasn’t run since finishing up the track in the Russell Road at Charles Town last April, and there’s no good way for the handicapper to judge how he’ll run here after 11 months. Trainer Kieron Magee is 6-for-35 off similar layoffs in the last five years, and it’s perhaps worthy of note that this one has been working well enough that Magee starts him off here. Jorge Vargas, jr. is up.
The deserving favorite, and most likely winner here, is #5 Laki. He was a solid third in the G3 General George last out and bested both Lewisfield and Rockinn On Bye three back in the six-furlong Howard Bender. He likes the trip, loves Laurel, and has the tactical speed to find a winning trip. He can be tough in here.
So, too, can #2 Lewfield, who’s been worse than third only once in 11 tries at the trip. He’s a speedy sort, who likely will find himself on the lead or pressing the early pace. Arnaldo Bocachica will ride; he rode this one for the first dozen starts of his career before trainer Jeff Runco gave those duties to Jevian Toledo.
A horse we’re a bit curious about here Is #6 Clubman (6-1). We expect that the six-furlong distance is just going to be a bit short for a runner whose best efforts have come at a mile and beyond, but it’s worth noting that he is in the best form of his career right now.
In the end, we see Laki as the most likely winner here – but will want to keep an eye on the toteboard to see what sort of play Struth is getting. Of the major players here, he’s the one who might offer value in the end.
- RACE 7
- SCR: 6
- RACE 8
- RACE 9
- SCR: 3, 7
- RACE 10
- RACE 11
- SCR: 6