MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride, a rapidly improving son of Grade 1 winner Paynter, stole the spotlight away from a quartet of accomplished stakes winners with a 1 ¾-length triumph in Friday’s graded-quality feature at Laurel Park.
Respected at odds of 5-2 in a field of seven led by multiple stakes winners Alwaysmining, Cordmaker and Grade 3 winner Name Changer, Harpers First Ride ($7) held the main challengers at bay early and put everyone away late to capture the open third-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up in 1:34.86 for one mile over a fast main track.
It was the second straight win and fifth in seven starts since joining Laurel’s summer meet-leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez out of a maiden claiming victory last fall in Kentucky. Harpers First Ride improved to six-for-10 lifetime, five-for-six at Laurel and four-for-five at the distance.
“It was a really tough race today. Cordmaker and Alwaysmining are really good horses,” Gonzalez said. “I told Angel, ‘Break and see what happens. If they go to the lead, stay close to them.’ He broke really good and surprised me. They didn’t go too fast in the first quarter, and he had a lot of horse.”
Harpers First Ride and jockey Angel Cruz were part of a measured three-horse tussle up front with Alwaysmining in the clear three wide from his outside post position and Cordmaker racing between them. Alwaysmining held a half-length advantage after an opening quarter-mile in 24.98 seconds, with Cordmaker a head in front of Harpers First Ride.
Cruz kept Harpers First Ride engaged along the inside to take over the top spot, leading Cordmaker by a head after a half-mile in 47.35 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.89 as Alwaysmining began to drop back. Cruz shook them both once straightened for home and widened his advantage through the stretch as longshot stablemate Tybalt – twice stakes-placed at 2 and 3 – closed on the far outside for second at 30-1.
“They didn’t want to take the lead and I was there. I got a comfortable lead on the inside and I just sat there,” Cruz said. “He was comfortable, and then he just kicked when I started riding him.”
It was 1 ½ lengths back to Name Changer in third, followed by Laurel stakes winner Honor the Fleet; Cordmaker, third by two necks in the 2019 Pimlico Special (G3) making his first start in nine months; Tattooed and 2-1 favorite Alwaysmining, a seven-time stakes winner at Laurel who ran in the 2019 Preakness (G1). Grade 3 winner No Dozing, turf and dirt stakes winner John Jones and Compound It were scratched.
Gonzalez said he will take his time picking out a next spot for Harpers First Ride, bred in Maryland by Sagamore Farm, who has yet to face stakes competition.
“We’re going to see how he comes back and everything and then we’re going to decide where to go,” he said. “He loves more distance. He’s going to be even better at a mile and an eighth.”