Understudy Kitty looks for starring role in Laurel Futurity

Nearly two decades after winning with a relatively unknown horse that would go on to greater glory, trainer Michael Matz brings another talented maiden winner to Laurel Park in search of stakes success in Saturday’s $150,000 Laurel Futurity.

Matz will saddle Runnymoore Racing homebred Understudy Kitty in the 97th running of the Futurity for 2-year-olds, co-headliner with the $150,000 Selima for 2-year-old fillies on an 11-race program featuring four stakes worth $500,000 in purses. Both juvenile races are scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

The opening Saturday card of the calendar year-ending fall meet also includes the $100,000 Japan Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for 1 ½ miles on the grass and the $100,000 Twixt for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Fresh off a debut triumph at Delaware Park, Barbaro came to Laurel in late fall of 2005 to earn his first stakes victory in the Futurity, run on the undercard of the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, then a Grade 1. He would race one more time on turf, capturing Calder’s Tropical Park Derby (G3) to open his 3-year-old season, and reeled off wins in the Holy Bull (G2) and Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park and Kentucky Derby (G1) before suffering a leg injury in the Preakness (G1).

The thought of Barbaro’s Futurity win brings back fond memories for Matz, who had run only one other horse in the race since, finishing seventh with Lake Placid in 2007.

“It sure does,” Matz said. “It seems like it’s been ages to look for another one. I know I’ll never find one, but we’ll just keep looking for one.”

Like Barbaro, Understudy Kitty enters the Futurity off a maiden victory, though in his second start. Fourth as the favorite in his Aug. 19 debut, the Kitten’s Joy colt returned in the same spot with a gutsy front-running neck triumph sprinting 5 ½ furlongs over the Colonial Downs turf Sept. 8.

“The first time we ran him he just got a little green on us, so I think [jockey Jorge] Ruiz wanted to make sure he got him out of the gate and got him into the contest, which I don’t think that’s really his style of running,” Matz said. “I don’t know that he wants to be on the lead and doing that, but I think he has enough ability that he got it done.

“I think the running style that he has, I think he’ll break and hopefully sit mid-pack and make a nice move down the lane,” he added. “His disposition is good enough. I think he just kind of did that on sheer ability.”

Understudy Kitty had a maintenance half-mile breeze in 51 seconds over the all-weather surface at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. Monday. Jeiron Barbosa, fresh off his title at Pimlico Race Course’s boutique fall meet, is named to ride from Post 4 in a field of 16 that includes main-track-only entrants Thedingoateyobaby and Bolt of Aurum.

“It’s a little quick to come back, but he came out of the race real well. He’s got a very, very good disposition, so we’re hoping that he can step up to the task,” Matz said. “It’s a big jump going from a maiden 5 ½ to the Laurel Futurity, but I think he’s nice enough or we wouldn’t be trying it.”