Euro Stable’s sophomore sensation Lebda, a two-time stakes winner this winter over his home course of Laurel Park, will make the jump to Grade 1 company for his next start in Saturday’s $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park.
Also heading to the Jersey shore for Maryland’s leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez will be MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride, set to make his stakes debut in the Monmouth Cup (G3) on the Haskell undercard. Harpers First Ride has won five of seven starts since being claimed last fall, including an impressive allowance triumph July 3 at Laurel.
Lebda, by Raison d’Etat, suffered the first loss of his 3-year-old season in the June 27 Ohio Derby (G3), where he was part of a wicked early pace under regular Laurel-based rider Alex Cintron before tiring to be sixth behind 14-1 upset winner Dean Martini.
It was the first race for Lebda since his two-turn victory in the Private Terms at about 1 1/16 miles March 14 at Laurel. Live racing was paused in Maryland for 2 ½ months amid the coronavirus pandemic, resuming May 30, and soon after Euro’s Valter Ramos spent $3,000 to make Lebda a late nomination to the Triple Crown.
“He was off for a long time. He had a lot of vacation, and that’s why we’re going to run back in the three weeks,” Gonzalez said. “The owner is very excited for this. This is why he does it, to be part of big days. You don’t want to say no when you have a horse like this.”
Lebda helped convince his connections to take a shot at the 1 1/8-mile Haskell when he returned to the work tab for the first time following the Ohio Derby with a half-mile breeze in 47.80 seconds July 10 at Laurel, the fastest of 31 horses.
“Alex breezed him that day and when we talked he said he was feeling good and did everything right, and he had a lot of horse,” Gonzalez said. “The next couple of days he looked good, and that’s why we decided to run.”
Cintron will retain the mount for the Haskell, which will be the fourth graded-stakes attempt for Lebda. His best finish came when third in the Iroquois (G3) last fall at Churchill Downs. He ended his juvenile campaign running ninth in the Nashua (G3) at Aqueduct and third in the Heft at Laurel, where he opened 2020 with a victory in the one-mile Miracle Wood.
“For me, to run in the big races is different. I’m not crazy about running if they don’t have a chance. This horse, I believe he’s a very good horse. He can run,” Gonzalez said. “I know the race is going to be tough. If we don’t run over there, we’ll never know how much he can run. No matter what, one day he was going to have to run with the good horses.”
Lebda broke from Post 4 in the Ohio Derby, also at 1 1/8 miles, and Gonzalez is hoping for a better starting position over what is regarded as a speed-favoring racetrack in the Haskell.
“I believe there will be a lot of speed in the race. It all depends on the position. I think the seven or eight is a good position for me,” Gonzalez said. “If he’s inside, we have to rush him too much to take a good position. If we’re outside it’s much better.”
Gonzalez said the ultimate goal for Lebda has been the 145th Preakness Stakes (G1), rescheduled from May 16 to Oct. 3 as the final leg of the Triple Crown, four weeks after the Kentucky Derby (G1). Tiz the Law captured the Belmont Stakes (G1) June 20.
“That was the plan before all this happened, to wait for the Preakness no matter what. The plan was not, if we had the points and everything like that, to go to the Derby,” Gonzalez said. “We wait for the Preakness because we’re local, we’re going to be at home. Now, if he’s doing good and everything is good by then, I believe we still try for the Preakness.”