Pretty Good Year
Pretty Good Year won the 2020 Maryland Million Turf. Photo by Allison Janezic.

This Saturday afternoon when Laurel Park hosts the 36th edition of the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, a trio of horses will be seeking to defend their titles.

Post time for the 12-race card is 11:30 a.m.

Hello Beautiful will seek her second straight Maryland Million Distaff title for trainer Brittany Russell, while Karan’s Notion seeks his second straight tally in the Maryland Million Sprint for Nancy Heil and Pretty Good Year will look to duplicate his Maryland Million Turf title of one year ago for Kelly Rubley.

Hello Beautiful will be among the shortest-priced favorites on the card for Russell and is looking for her third Maryland Million score in as many years, having taken the Lassie at age two in 2019.

“She’s doing really good,” Russell said of Hello Beautiful, who arrives off stakes victories in the Weathervane and Alma North. “She loves being at home and she’s always run well over this track. Winning any race on any day is tough, so for her to be able win two straight stakes on Maryland Million Day is really special. It’s hard to imagine that she’s going to possibly win her third straight Maryland Million race on Saturday. This filly has meant so much to me and every time she wins it’s really special.”

Of the trio of defending champs, Hello Beautiful seems the most likely to repeat. She’s 2-5 on the morning line and may get bet down from there.

The four-year-old daughter of Golden Lad captured the Distaff last fall at age three and already owns three wins and over $200,000 banked from five starts this year. In 17 career outings, Hello Beautiful boasts a solid 9-3-1 slate and nearly $525,000 banked. She has already notched six stakes victories over the strip.

With regular rider Sheldon Russell – Brittany Russell’s husband – on the shelf, Jevian Toledo will ride.

Heil, for many years best remembered locally as the conditioner of 1990 Preakness Stakes pace-setter Fighting Notion, will look for her second Maryland Million victory with Karan’s Notion, the only starter she has ever saddled on the occasion.

Heil, who owns, trains and bred Karan’s Notion, captured last year’s Maryland Million Sprint as an overlooked 16-1 shot while tackling older foes and will seek a duplicate score with regular pilot Yomar Ortiz in the irons.

“I don’t know if anything will ever top being able to saddle a horse in the Preakness,” Heil said. “But last year certainly came close. He was the first Maryland Million horse that I have ever had. When he was foaled [in 2017] I remember telling my friends he was my Maryland Million horse. He’s always been a very long, good-looking horse and he’s got a lot of early speed. He doesn’t like to be rated. He just wants to get out there and race on the lead or near the lead and just be able to be clear of trouble turning for home.”

Karan’s Notion is winless in six starts this year, but he has finished second twice including his latest outing against allowance foes. Like Hello Beautiful, Karan’s Notion also bested older foes last fall when taking the Maryland Million Sprint and the Heil homebred sports a 4-5-1 slate and nearly $210,000 banked from 16 lifetime outings.

Karan’s Notion missed some five months earlier this season, and his first two starts off the bench were unimpressive. But the Great Notion gelding showed signs of rounding back into form when rallying into second last time out. He is 10-1 on the morning line.

Pretty Good Year was 15-1 when he prevailed in last year’s Maryland Million Turf with Sheldon Russell aboard, but in six starts since he has been unable to duplicate that effort. In fact, Pretty Good Year has failed to hit the board in six subsequent outings, his best efforts a pair of fifth-place finishes.

Rubley will have to hope that he will regain his winning ways on Saturday’s big stage in his Turf title defense. Pretty Good Year, a five-year-old Great Notion gelding, is 15-1 on the morning line and will have Jorge Vargas, Jr. in the irons.