Monday Morning Qb
Monday Morning Qb was a dominant winner of the Maryland Million Classic. Photo by Allison Janezic.

Sometimes you zig when you ought to zag, but sometimes that turns out to be the right move after all.

That looked to be the case today at Laurel Park, when three-year-old Monday Morning Qb — fresh off a disastrous outing on the boggy turf at PImlico — returned to the dirt to tackle his elders and register a a 3 1/4-length victory in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic.

“Just as a gambler and not even thinking about as a trainer, turf-to-dirt is one of my favorite angles,” winning trainer Butch Reid said following the race. “Especially the way things turned out today, I’m not second-guessing myself on [trying the turf last time]. So, yeah, turf to dirt is a brilliant idea.”

Maybe it wasn’t quite the conventional route to the Classic winner’s circle, but the win today was the Imagining colt’s second stakes triumph, and it validated his stellar effort in his most recent dirt try. That day, in the Federico Tesio Stakes, in his first start in over seven months, Monday Morning Qb was a dead-game second behind Happy Saver, a runner who returned to win the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in his follow-up.

Happy Saver’s recent success might have caused Reid to kick himself for passing on the Preakness to run up the track in the James W. Murphy Stakes the same day. But the trainer demurred.

“I don’t think we wanted to run against those first two [in the Preakness] at that point anyway, so I’m not at all disappointed,” he said.

And anyway, the Classic win takes some of the sting out.

In a year as strange as this one has been, perhaps it makes sense that the Classic attracted likely its best field in years. The headliner was Grade 3 Pimico Special winner Harpers First Ride, who went off the 9-10 favorite, but he wasn’t alone. Also on board were heavy hitters Cordmaker, who is multiple Grade 3-placed, and Top Line Growth, who recently ran second in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile.

Much of the saltiness in the race came from the presence of those three Maryland-breds, who only drew in because just four Maryland-sired runners entered. Yet all were left gasping in the wake of the Maryland-sired Monday Morning Qb.

When the gates opened, Monday Morning Qb took a bit of a funny step, forcing jockey Sheldon Russell to take corrective action — which in turn encouraged the horse to spurt forward and attain a stalking position just to the outside of early leader Prendimi, who ran second in this spot a year ago.

That suited Reid just fine. His horse was in a perfect spot, shadowing the leader — who was not Harpers First Ride. The latter had been in front throughout in his Pimlico Special win, but today he dawdled several lengths off the early leaders.

“I thought we were gonna be, this was gonna be Harpers First Ride with us outside of him was the way I envisioned the race last night,” Reid said. “And he would have been a much, you know, tough horse to run down.”

It was yet another well-considered ride by Russell, who won four times today, including scores in the Turf and Distaff. He’d won so much, in fact, that Reid was concerned.

“I’m a little bit of a pessimist. I’m thinking, ‘How many does he have in him today? Did he use up all his luck before he got to me?’ That’s a natural trainer instinct,” Reid joked. “But Sheldon’s a good rider. I’ve known him for years and he’s won some nice races for us, so I had complete confidence in Sheldon.”

Monday Morning Qb pressed Prendimi through the opening half-mile in 46.81 seconds before taking over entering the far turn. He led by a length-and-a-half after three-quarters in 1:10.94 and, despite being slow to switch leads in the lane, was never seriously threatened.

Running time for the nine furlongs over a fast main track was 1:48.13, the fastest Classic run at this distance.

“He’s a beautiful horse. I think he won the best-turned-out horse and I’m not surprised at all, because he’s stunning,” Russell said. “Mr. Reid said he’s sharp and just get him into a good position. Going into the first turn you could see I had a handful. He was really strong, he was eager, he was well-prepared today and that’s sort of how he ran.”

Monday Morning Qb paid $15.60 to win, with Harpers First Ride along for the place, and 45-1 outsider Tattooed filling out the triple. Cordmaker and Top Line Growth made little impact, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.

Chuck Zacney, who races as Cash Is King LLC, purchased Monday Morning Qb for $25,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale in 2018. Cash Is King owns the horse in partnership with LC Racing LLC.

Reid has been high on him throughout his career. He broke his maiden at Parx Racing at second asking and followed that up with a score in the Heft Stakes at Laurel last December. He ran fourth in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February but then did not race again until the Tesio.

Monday Morning Qb now has three wins from seven career starts, and the winner’s share pushes his career earnings past $225,000.

The Maryland Million win was the first for both Reid and for the sire Imagining, who stands at Anchor and Hope Farm.

Now, patience rewarded, Reid and the connections have a lightly raced sophomore who looks very much to be on the upswing.

“We hadn’t really looked beyond this race,” Reid said. “We’ll go to hunting now.”