Miracle Wood Stakes quick hits

The local road to the Preakness Stakes — and to the Black-Eyed Susan — swings into full gear Saturday with the renewals of the Miracle Wood and Wide Country, respectively. Mid-March and mid-April stakes await those seeking to get to Baltimore via this path.

The races will have a Maryland flavor to ’em. Seven of eight slated to face the starter in the Wide Country are trained in Maryland, as are five of nine in the Miracle Wood.

Miracle Wood big picture: The 28th running of the Miracle Wood Stakes is the first local route stakes for sophomores on the road to the Preakness. It’ll be followed in March by the Private Terms and in April by the Federico Tesio before reaching the Middle Jewel in May. A handful of horses have moved from Miracle Wood success to the Preakness starting gate, including 2006 Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint and most recently, in 2019, Alwaysmining.

Lone stakes winner: Only one of the runners here, Local Motive, is already a stakes winner. The John Salzman, Jr. trainee took the Hickory Tree on the Colonial Downs turf in August and also won the James F. Lewis, III Stakes at Laurel in November. He’s been well beaten in two subsequent stakes tries.

Undefeated: The Tyler Servis-trained Perfect Day will look to keep a perfect record intact. He’s 2-for-2 in his young career, winning a Penn National maiden event and a Parx Racing allowance by a combined total of 14 lengths.

Quotable: “We felt comfortable entering [Perfect Day] in the Miracle Wood,” Tyler Servis said. “It’s not that far of a ship for us. It wasn’t the Gotham, which is a graded stake and maybe just a touch too much to ask of him at this stage. I think it’s good stepping-stone. We’ll see how good he is.”

Alotta decisions to make: Or maybe just one. Or none. Time will tell. Trainer Jerry Robb has entered a pair in the Miracle Wood in Majestic Frontier and Maryland Juvenile Championship runner-up Alottahope. Jockey Xavier Perez is named on both, and thus, if both post, will have a decision to make.

Rapid rise: Three races ago, Majestic Frontier was well beaten in a bottom-level maiden race at Laurel. Two back he beat $16,000 maiden claimers. But then trainer Jerry Robb jumped him up into allowance company, and he responded with a four-length romp, and now, nine days later, he’s scheduled to try stakes rivals. If he posts, it’ll mark a quite remarkable rise in the space of a month.

Quotable: “He’s doing great. He came out of his last race like a monster,” said Jerry Robb’s assistant Jessica Lindsey. “He knows he’s getting better, that’s for sure. He’s very proud of himself.”

Lonely crown: Only one horse of the nine entered is Triple Crown-nominated at this point. That’s morning line favorite Conclusive.

Not ordinary, no Joe: In the Maryland Juvenile Championship in January, the Mike Trombetta-trained Joe rallied to a good-looking victory. He’s raced only once since – a solid allowance score Jan. 23 – but the Trombetta barn will still be represented by morning line favorite Conclusive (7-2). The Nyquist colt was a sharp winner against allowance foes last time out and will have hot rider Victor Carrasco up. But ‘cappers take note: he’s 2-for-2 around two turns, and 0-for-3, with a single third-place finish, around one. The Miracle Wood is a one-turn mile.

Quotable: “He has a versatility to him. We don’t have to be on the lead,” said Marc Tacher, whose Sonata Stable owns Conclusive. “It’s not necessary for him but if it does happen, fine. We’re not going to look for the lead. We’ll let the race develop and whatever is better for him, we’ll take it.”

Who was Miracle Wood? Miracle Wood earned $498,090 racing in the colors of owner-breeder Albert F. Allen, Jr. Trained by Bert Allen’s son Ferris Allen, Miracle Wood won the Challedon and Walden Stakes and the Maryland Juvenile Championship as a two-year-old, a year in which he also finished third in the Grade 1 Laurel Futurity. He finished fifth, less than two lengths out of third, in the 1986 Preakness won by Snow Chief.

Wide Country: The seven-furlong Wide Country for sophomore fillies kicks off the road to the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes the day before the Preakness. It also kicks off Saturday’s stakes action.

Ask the moon: Luna Belle will likely go favored and with good reason. The Ham Smith trainee has won back-to-back stakes and was the easiest kind of winner last time, when she won the six-furlong Xtra Heat by a half-dozen lengths. She also owns a win in the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, so the trip should pose no difficulty. Denis Araujo will ride for the third consecutive time.

Quotable: “She’s kind of push-button. When you ask her, she’ll respond. That’s been the way she’s done her works and the way she’s been running,” Hamilton Smith said. “When [Araujo] asks her to go, she does. She will relax behind horses, which is great. I like that in her. She acts like she’ll do anything we want her to.”

Stakes winners: The only other stakes winner in the field is Maryland Million Lassie winner Buff My Boots. Trained by John Salzman, Jr., was a solid, albeit well-beaten, second in the Xtra Heat. J. D. Acosta will be aboard as he has been for all seven of her starts to date.

That’s a big margin: The Joseph Lee-trained Sandy’s Garden won at first asking by 20 ¾ lengths. That’s not a typo. Most recently, in her first start in three months, she was second in the Franklin Square Stakes for New York-breds at Aqueduct.

Quality cutback: If you subscribe to the premise that young horses cutting back in distance are often a good bet, Qualy might be one to watch. The Quality Road filly won last out Dec. 31 in a one-mile maiden special weight at Laurel. That was her first try on dirt and first with blinkers, and for the Wide Country trainer Justin Nixon will add Lasix.

Quotable: “She’s a real nice filly from one of [owner-breeder Ed Seltzer’s] families,” trainer Justin Nixon said. “She came up and she’s just been very, very classy. She’s all class, this filly. We’re pretty excited about her. She’s a nice, fresh 3-year-old, lightly raced. She put in two very good works, last week and again the other day, so we’re excited about Saturday.”

Who was Wide Country? Trained by Bob Camac, the Maryland-bred Wide Country mounted an eight-race win streak at ages two and three culminating in a win in the 1991 Black-Eyed Susan.