TOP MIDLANTIC-BREDS LAKI, HARPERS FIRST RIDE HEAD LAUREL STAKES
Two members of the top 10 in the latest The Racing Biz/Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Top Midlantic-bred Poll are slated to be in action in Laurel Park stakes December 26.
Four-year-old Harpers First Ride is the overwhelming 3-5 morning line favorite in the $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes, while Laki is 4-1 on the morning line in the $100,000 Dave’s Friend.
Harpers First Ride was third in the latest poll, while Laki was sixth. The poll is led by Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go.
The stakes are two of the eight added-money events on the card, topped by the Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff.
A gelded 4-year-old son of Grade 1 winner Paynter, Harpers First Ride has won six of 10 starts with two seconds, one third and more than $435,000 in purse earnings in 2020. Three of those wins have come in stakes – the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special Oct. 2 at Pimlico Race Course and the Sept. 5 Deputed Testamony and Nov. 28 Richard W. Small, each going 1 1/16 miles at Laurel.
Maryland’s three-time defending year-end training champion Claudio Gonzalez claimed Harpers First Ride for $30,000 out of a Sept. 14, 2019 win at Churchill Downs in his third career start, and he has amassed a lifetime record of 9-2-1 and a $513,055 bankroll in 16 races.
“Everybody likes to dream, but all the time he proves he can run with the good horses. He showed class since the day we claimed him,” Gonzalez said. “He came into the barn and every day he improved. He got better and better and he has never been a problem for us.”
Harpers First Ride has won three of his last four races, the exception being a runner-up finish to Monday Morning Qb in the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 24 at Laurel, beaten 3 ¼ lengths. He bounced back with a three-length triumph in the Richard Small that produced the second-highest speed figure of his career.
“He had a perfect trip the last time. The time before he was on the outside the whole race and the last time it was much better,” Gonzalez said. “For me, the distance is not a problem. He’s the kind of horse that can run all day.
“I cannot say anything bad about him. He does everything right. He’s more mature,” he added. “Even when he breezes, if you ask him a little, he goes, and if you relax with him, he relaxes. You can see it in the races. When he runs, if you push him he can take the lead or he can come from behind. The horse is just a nice horse.”
Harpers First Ride’s top rival in the nine-furlong Native Dancer is Cordmaker (4-1). The Rodney Jenkins trainee, who has earned just over $500,000 in his career, has finished behind Harpers First Ride in four consecutive starts and was second last out in the Richard W. Small.
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In the six-furlong Dave’s Friend, Maryland-bred star Laki will have to contend with the likes of Grade 3 Fall Highweight winner Share the Ride (9-5) and Whereshetoldmetogo (7-2), who narrowly bested the son of Cuba last out in the Frank Whiteley Stakes at Laurel. The effort came six weeks after Laki held off an onrushing Eastern Bay win the Oct. 3 De Francis, his fifth career stakes win and first in graded company.
“I prefer to give Laki a little more time between starts because he puts so much into his efforts. I almost feel like I’m not being fair to him if I don’t give him the time,” trainer Damon Dilodovico said. “We got quality time from the Dash to his last start, so I was very happy with that, and he performed. That’s the thing. He came out of the race well, so we figured we’d give it a shot.”
The Dash avenged Laki’s runner-up finish by 1 ¼ lengths to Eastern Bay in the Sept. 5 Polynesian at Laurel, a race in which Whereshetoldmetogo ran fourth. In addition to his $703,662 earner, Dilodovico will also send out Big Bertha Stable and Stormy Stable’s Taco Supream, upset winner of the 2019 Maryland Million Sprint. Sixth in the Polynesian, Taco Supream was a popular optional claiming allowance winner going six furlongs Dec. 3 at Laurel.
“It’s going to end up being about 23 days [between starts]. He breezed lights out [Sunday] morning and seemed to cool out well,” Dilodovico said. “They both seem like they’re on top of their game. These stakes seem to keep coming up with the tough horses. But his last race was a quality race.”
The Polynesian was the first race in two months for Whereshetoldmetogo and his first for trainer Brittany Russell. Since then the 5-year-old El Padrino gelding has been in front at the wire in two straight starts, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the six-furlong New Castle Sept. 26 at Delaware Park.
“He’s doing great. He’s a pretty neat horse, actually, to have in the barn,” Russell said. “I don’t try and get too cute with him in the morning, I just try to keep him happy. He’s a big horse and he’s a racehorse. I feel like when you walk him over there, if you have him happy he’s going to put his head down and try and run for you.
“That’s exactly what we saw last time. He and Laki hooked up and they ran hard down to the line. He fought hard and I think that’s what he likes to do. He likes to put up a fight,” she added. “I know he’s coming off a big number and there’s always the chance of a bounce but I wouldn’t have put him in had I not thought he was doing good enough to go over there and run big.”
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Two other members of the Top Midlantic-bred Poll top 10 will be in action on the opposite coast. Sharing, second in the poll, and fourth-place Field Pass both will contest graded stakes on Santa Anita’s opening day.
Three-year-old Sharing is the tepid 3-1 morning line favorite for the Grade 1 American Oaks going 1 ¼ miles on the turf. Field Pass, also three, is the 5-2 second choice in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, also on the lawn.