It’s Sizzling Time gives trainer Valrie Smith first stakes win

“I was lucky,” Valrie Smith said  in the winner’s circle following Saturday’s John B. Campbell Stakes at Laurel Park. But truth be told, the day was more about a plan that came together than a lucky lightning strike.

Valrie Smith ready to be interviewed by MJC analyst Kali Francois (holding mic). Photo by The Racing Biz.

Under a clever Jean Briceno ride, Chuckie Inc. and Mona Bowley’s It’s Sizzling Time slipped through inside to reel in Double Crown in the shadow of the wire and win the Campbell by a nose. The victory was the first stakes win for both Smith and the six-year-old It’s Sizzling Time.

“It is wonderful,” Smith said afterwards. “It’s my first time winning a big race, and I’m loving it.”

Smith, a native of Jamaica, said she has four horses in the barn, an operation in which she teams up with her husband, Donnovan Haughton, a winner of over 200 races in his training career. She entered today with a dozen lifetime victories in a training career that began in 2017. 

“He taught me everything I know,” Smith said of her husband. “So we’re a great team, and we work well together.”

It’s Sizzling Time is the unquestioned star of the show, though. He now has seven wins from 40 lifetime starts, good for career earnings of $307,766. Not bad for a horse that, though he’s by now-stylish sire Not This Time, cost just $1,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in Timonium in 2019..

“We saw him in the ring, myself and my husband Donnovan,” she recalled of the purchase. “We just sat there, and we looked, and we said, ‘You know, why not take the shot? It’s $1,000.’”

It’s Sizzling Time debuted in $25,000 maiden claiming company, winning at third asking, and has run as cheaply as $10,000. But he’s run exclusively in non-claiming company since the middle of 2022, picking off a first allowance win at Delaware, a second at Timonium, and on this past New Year’s Eve, in a tough field, a third at Laurel.

That last, in his first start under Briceno, came when It’s Sizzling Time was 34-1.

“He likes him a lot,” Smith said of rider and horse. “They formed a really good bond.”

It's Sizzling Time
It’s Sizzling Time took the inside route to win the John Campbell Stakes. Photo courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club.

All roads in the Campbell seemed to lead through Bob Marco. The Kieron Magee entered on a four-race win streak, performances that had been uniformly dazzling, and went off the even-money favorite.

Bob Marco did what he typically does, showing the rest of the field his heels as he opened up a sizable early advantage. He led by five lengths after a half-mile in a sharp 46.94 seconds. But, trying stakes company for the first time, Bob Marco could not sustain the pace. His lead dwindled to a couple of lengths after three quarters, and by the head of the lane, he was confronted and then passed by Double Crown.

Double Crown cleared to the lead and appeared to be home and dry. But It’s Sizzling Time’s run was just revving up.

“At the quarter pole, when I saw him make that move, I was like, ‘Oh, thank you, Jesus,” Smith recalled with a laugh. “But at the finish, I’m like, ‘Did he get it?’”

He did, narrowly besting Double Crown. It was five more lengths back to show horse Be Better, who was a neck ahead of Bob Marco.

It’s Sizzling Time paid $25.40 to win, and the exacta returned $115.50. Running time for the 1 ⅛ miles on a main track rated fast was 1:52.64.

One race later, Charming Way, claimed for $25,000 last July by trainer Jamie Ness for himself and Troy Johnson, exploded clear of her rivals with three eighths to go and went on to win the $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 ½ lengths.

Jaime Rodriguez, in the irons on Charming Way for the fifth consecutive race, now has four wins and a second on the five-year-old Blofeld mare, who registered her first career stakes victory. Charming Way, the 2-1 second choice, now has seven wins from 19 starts with earnings of over $325,000.