HARPERS FIRST RIDE RETURNS TO WINNING WAYS

American Sailor
Thumbs up from jockey Angel Cruz after Harpers First Ride won the Small Stakes. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride, Maryland-bred winner of the historic Pimlico Special (G3) last month, swept past his rivals on the far outside around the turn and powered through the stretch to a three-length victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Richard W. Small at Laurel Park.

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The 25th running of the Small at about 1 1/16 miles and $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley at six furlongs, both for 3-year-olds and up, were among six stakes worth $600,000 in purses on the Fall Festival of Racing program that included the $100,000 Concern for 3-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs.

Favored at even money in a field of 10 featuring fellow graded-stakes winners Name Changer and Monongahela, multiple graded-stakes placed Cordmaker and Bal Harbour and Mexican Triple Crown winner Kukulkan, Harpers First Ride ($4) completed the distance in 1:41.92 over a fast main track.

It was the second career Small victory for trainer Claudio Gonzalez following Afleet Willy in 2017 and first for Cruz, also aboard for wins in the Pimlico Special and Primonetta that preceded a last out second to Monday Morning Qb in the Maryland Million Classic.

“He’s a special horse,” Cruz said. “He gave me my biggest win of the year and he just gave me another one. Those horses are special. They mean a lot, and when you get on them, it means more.”

Bal Harbour, dropping out of graded-stakes company for the first time in 12 races dating back to December 2018, and multiple Pennsylvania-bred stakes winner Wait for It battled through a quarter-mile in 23.14 seconds and a half in 46.24 with Cordmaker – third in the 2019 and 2020 Pimlico Special – and 2019 Iowa Derby winner Top Line Growth side-by-side tracking in behind.

Having settled by himself in fifth, Harpers First Ride got his cue rounding the far turn responded by coasting to the lead on the extreme outside. Set down by Cruz at the top of the stretch, the 4-year-old gelding sprinted clear as Cordmaker took second and Name Changer edged Top Line Growth by a length for fourth.

Forewarned, Midnight Act, Monongahela, Bal Harbour, Wait for It and Kukulkan completed the order of finish.

“We knew there a couple horses that had a lot of speed and my horse is just a game horse and he’s even, he doesn’t have that much speed. But he broke good and I sent him and he sat behind the pace. He just relaxed for me and on the far turn, I had a lot of horse,” Cruz said. “When I tapped him he responded to me. I had tons of horse. He ran his heart out today.”

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