Hello Beautiful
Hello Beautiful won the 2019 Maryland Million Lassie. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

After having her coming out party during last year’s Maryland Million, Hello Beautiful returns for this year’s $100,000 Distaff Saturday at Laurel Park in what her connections hope becomes a welcome back celebration.

The seven-furlong Distaff for fillies and mares 3 and older is among eight stakes and four starter stakes on the 35th Jim McKay Maryland Million program, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Highlighted by the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up, first race post time is 11:25 a.m.

Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables’ Hello Beautiful was a popular 3 ¾-length winner of the Maryland Million Lassie last October in her fifth career start, which served a prelude to her 11 ¾-length romp in the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship to close her 2-year-old season.

“We’d love to see her run the same way she did last year,” trainer Brittany Russell said.

Some planned time off turned into an extended vacation for Hello Beautiful amid the coronavirus pandemic which pushed her 2020 debut to June 1 in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint at Laurel, where she finished seventh. She rebounded with a front-running 8 ¼-length open allowance score June 20, also at Laurel, both under the trainer’s husband, jockey Sheldon Russell.

“She’s been great. She’s been moving forward since we got her home,” Brittany Russell said. “She’s put in a couple of really nice works. We’re just hoping we can get her back on track. We’ve got her home with Sheldon back up, and hopefully she can run a good race and we can figure out how we’re going to move forward from there.”

After giving some consideration to the Test (G1) at Saratoga, Hello Beautiful was redirected to the seven-furlong Audubon Oaks Aug. 9 at Ellis Park but lost all chance after getting wiped out exiting the starting gate and never getting into contention behind Mundaye Call’s track record-setting performance.

Hello Beautiful wound up at Saratoga for the six-furlong Prioress (G2) Sept. 5, setting a blistering pace pressed by eventual winner Frank’s Rockette before tiring to be sixth. Both races came without Sheldon Russell, who missed two months with a fractured wrist and will climb back aboard Saturday from Post 6.

“She ran against some serious racehorses in those two races and things didn’t go our way, but that’s racing,” Brittany Russell said. “I think if we can keep her home and get her back on a racetrack that we know she likes and walk her out of her stall and just see if we can get her back on track or at least running well, I think that’s the main thing right now.

“We asked her to do a couple things and it didn’t work out,” she added. “Hopefully, no excuses on Saturday and we can get a good effort. There’s a lot of positives going into it.”

Among the competition for Hello Beautiful are a quartet of fellow multiple stakes winners in Artful Splatter, Las Setas, Limited View and Never Enough Time, the latter a Maryand-bred who is second on a list of four-also eligibles.

Chanceland Farm and Wayne Harrison’s Las Setas swept the Wide Country, Beyond the Wire and Weber City Miss for 3-year-old fillies last winter and spring at Laurel for trainer Katy Voss, her co-owner/breeder. Off the board in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and Politely seven months apart to cap 2019, she has raced just once in 2020 finishing fourth in an off-the-turf optional claiming allowance Sept. 19.

Limited View, like Hello Beautiful, is a past winner of the Maryland Million Lassie, her victory coming in 2017. Co-owned by John Salzman Jr. and Fred Wasserloos and trained by Salzman, the 5-year-old Freedom Child mare has won two of her last three starts sprinting 6 ½ and six furlongs at Laurel, where she owns all nine of her career wins.

James C. Wolf’s Artful Splatter beat 11-time stakes winner Anna’s Bandit by a half-length in the one-mile Geisha Stakes Jan. 18 and won one of her next two starts before the coronavirus shutdown. She needed four starts to break through once racing returned but has won two of her last three races, running second in the Twixt Stakes Sept. 5 at Laurel and romping by 10 ¼ lengths in the Sept. 26 George Rosenberger Memorial in the Delaware Park slop, both going 1 1/16 miles.

“She does love the slop,” trainer Kieron Magee said. “She absolutely annihilated them that day. Alex rode her great. He went slow the first half in 49 [seconds] and after they went the half he just opened up on them and broke their hearts. It was over. They tried to catch her and they were done. She was so impressive. That was unbelievable, watching that race.

“There’s some speed in the race so I don’t think we’ll have the lead. I worked her [the other day] behind a horse and she went by the last part of it. She’s sat off the pace before. It’s obviously not her favorite way to do it, but she can do that,” he added.

Alex Cintron, up in the Delaware stake, gets the return call from Post 5.

Making just her fifth career start and first in a stakes will be Coconut Cake, who takes a three-race win streak into the Distaff for NRS Stable, James Chambers and trainer Tim Keefe’s Avalon Farm. By 2014 General George (G3) winner Bandbox, Coconut Cake has impressed Keefe with her combination of talent and determination, having won her races by less than two lengths combined.

“She had always done what we asked her to do in the morning. I really wasn’t sure how good she was going to be, but I thought she was going to be decent,” Keefe said. “To go out and watch her run, obviously she’s got the ability but she’s also got that desire which some horses have and some don’t. You can’t train that in a horse. The horse has to come with that, and she has that desire to really want to get there first.”

Kevin Gomez will be back aboard for the third straight race, breaking from outside Post 10.

After going winless in four 2019 starts, Harry Kassap’s homebred Quiet Imagination has put together a solid 3-year-old campaign with two wins, three seconds and a third from eight races. Most recently, the 3-year-old daughter of Imagining rallied on the inside to be third in the six-furlong Tax Free Distaff Sept. 26 at Delaware, missing second by a head.

“She’s an Imagining filly that’s been very competitive and very productive all year. She deserves a shot again on the big day. The race on paper looks like it’s going to be extremely competitive but she’s one that’s just been ultra competitive all year,” trainer Tim Woolley said.

Quiet Imagination was second in her only other try at seven furlongs. Woolley will also saddle defending champion Mr. d’Angelo in the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf.

“She’s going to like the added distance. We’ve been trying to get her to stretch out longer than six furlongs,” Woolley said. “We’re going to be there to enjoy the day and show off the horses.”

Completing the field are Bunting, Gifted Heart, Le Weekend and She’smysunshine. Joining Never Enough Time on the Maryland-bred also-eligible list are Grade 3 winner Project Whiskey, Tax Free Distaff runner-up Dancer’s Melody and S W Briar Rose.