MD MILLION: FIYA STRONG TURF SPRINT FAVORITE

FIya
Fiya is undefeated in three turf tries. Photo by Maryland Jockey Club.

Robert Masiello’s Fiya, unbeaten in three starts this year, will put his speed and streak to the test when he steps up to stakes company for the first time in Saturday’s $75,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap at Laurel Park.

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The 5 ½-furlong Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Ladies for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles, each scheduled for Laurel’s world-class grass course, are 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.

First race post time is 11:25 a.m. The headliner comes in Race 11, the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up featuring historic Pimlico Special (G3) winner Harpers First Ride and fellow stakes winners Cordmaker, Monday Morning Qb and Top Line Growth.

This year marks the return of the Turf Sprint to the Maryland Million program following a seven-year absence. Won in each of its final three years by late Mid-Atlantic legend Ben’s Cat, the Turf Sprint was last run in 2012.

Bred in Maryland by Ann Merryman and trained through his first four starts by her son, Michael, Fiya made an auspicious debut last November at Laurel, getting loose before the race then tiring to third behind next-out winners Pitching Ari and Tastes Like Plaid after setting the pace.

HANDICAPPING THE TURF SPRINT

Second in his juvenile finale last December, Fiya was then gelded and moved to the turf and hasn’t lost since. He graduated by five lengths in a six-furlong maiden claimer June 26 and followed up with a front-running three-length allowance triumph going 5 ½ furlongs July 17 in 1:00.99, just .25 off the Exceller turf course record. Two weeks later, Masiello purchased him at auction for $400,000.

Fiya is 6-5 on the morning line.

“It looked like he was breezing, just the way [jockey] Feargal [Lynch] was sitting on him on the turn. He was absolutely just cruising around there, but he was going in 43 and change against a pretty good field,” Masiello said. “We spent a decent amount of money on him. The question is going to be, ‘Can he take that to the next level?’ We’ll find out at some point, but when they do that they’re giving you an indication that they might be pretty special.”

Moved to the New York barn of trainer Tom Albertrani, Fiya was considered for such races as the Aug. 26 Mahony at Saratoga, Sept. 7 Laurel Dash and Sept. 16 Franklin-Simpson (G3) at Kentucky Downs. Ultimately, he remained at Belmont Park where he debuted for his new connections Sept. 20, leading all the way in a 3 ¼-length victory in 1:06.70 that earned him a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, tied for the fastest by a 3-year-old on the grass this year.

“I felt very confident going into the race. If you would have told me he was going to go down there and just be a tick off the track record, I wouldn’t have believed that. But he certainly did it very impressively,” Albertrani said. “Since I’ve gotten the horse he really is impressive, both physically and the way he trains.

“I got him at Saratoga over the summer and he was very impressive. I felt pretty confident going into that last race,” he added. “We just felt we’d keep him at home and kind of run him in our own backyard without shipping in a different direction when we first got him, and he certainly delivered that day.”

Maryland’s four-time overall riding champion Trevor McCarthy, aboard for his debut last fall, gets a return call on Fiya from outside Post 9. They are favored at 6-5 on the morning line.

“He’s got a lot of natural speed. The last race it just looked like he was coasting along and doing it very easy, so going back to 5 ½ [furlongs] I don’t think is going to make any difference at all,” Albertrani said. “He’s run well at Laurel. We know the history that he’s got there so we feel very optimistic going into the race. If he runs back to his last three races he could be very tough in there.”

R. Larry Johnson’s homebred A Great Time takes his own two-race win streak into the Turf Sprint, the most recent coming in dramatic fashion. Trailing by as many as 15 lengths, the 6-year-old mare came flying late to capture the five-furlong The Very One Oct. 1 at Pimlico Race Course. Julian Pimentel returns to ride from Post 1.

Street Copper, unraced since running fifth by 2 ½ lengths in last year’s Maryland Million Turf; So Street, winner of the Howard County Stakes last fall at Laurel; Love You Much, third in the Laurel Dash and Jim McKay Turf Sprint in his last two outings; Joseph, fifth in the Laurel Dash; Jammer and Godlovesasinner complete the field. Maryland-bred Stroll Smokin is the lone also-eligible.

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