Circle P looks to round back into form in Miracle Wood

DeSales 85’s Triple Crown-nominated Circle P, unraced since an impressive victory in his stakes debut 12 weeks ago, will make his highly anticipated return against 10 rivals including multiple stakes winners Copper Tax and Sweet Soddy J in Saturday’s $100,000 Miracle Wood at Laurel Park.

The 29th running of the one-mile Miracle Wood serves as the co-headliner a nine-race program with the 31st edition of the Wide Country for 3-year-old fillies sprinting seven furlongs. First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

The Miracle Wood is the second of Laurel’s series of stakes for 3-year-olds leading up to the 149th Preakness (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, May 18 at historic Pimlico Race Course. It is followed by the 1 1/16-mile Private Terms March 23 and 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio April 20, the latter a ‘Win and In’ qualifier for Triple Crown-nominated horses to the Preakness.

Four of 11 horses in the Miracle Wood – Circle P, Copper Tax, Regalo and Startswithadream – are among the 346 nominated to the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1) by the early Jan. 29 deadline for $600. The late deadline, with a $6,000 fee, is April 1.

Though based at Penn National with trainer Flint Stites, Circle P has made his last three starts at Laurel, two of them wins by 8 ¼ combined lengths, the most recent coming in the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Dec. 2. After missing both the Heft to end the year and Spectacular Bid last month, the bay Speightster gelding is set to launch his comeback.

“He’s doing great. He’s bigger, better and stronger, I think,” Stites said. “He just had a minor issue that we had to take care of, nothing drastic, just time and backing off a little bit. He seemed to come out of it great.”

In the Maryland Juvenile Circle P settled near the back of the pack as Catahoula Moon and Speedyness dueled on the front end, then came with a powerful move on the outside to pass both and horses and win by 1 ¾ lengths. Speedyness, who finished third and is also entered in the Miracle Wood, returned to win a one-mile optional claiming allowance by 14 ¼ lengths Jan. 7.

“It was pretty nice. He broke a little slow, slower than I wanted, but the pace was really quick,” Stites said. “He just sat there and [jockey] Ricardo Chiappe turned him loose on the turn and he started mowing them down. That’s kind of the way he likes to do it. When we work him, we put somebody in front of him and he loves to chase them.”

With Chiappe injured, Julio Hernandez gets the call on Circle P from Post 9.

Circle P
Circle P won the Maryland Juvenile Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue.

“I think the distance will be fine, we’ll just have to go ahead and try,” Stites said. “I don’t think he wants to go real long, but a mile should hit him right in his wheelhouse.”

Circle P is 12-1 on the morning line in a crowded 11-horse field. Copper Tax, a two-time stakes winner who registered five consecutive wins earlier in his career for trainer Gary Capuano, is the lukewarm 3-1 morning line favorite.

Other horses likely to see some betting action include Regalo (7-2), Sweet Soddy J (4-1), Speedyness (9-2), and Point Dume (6-1).

At ages 2 and 3, Maryland-bred Miracle Wood won or placed in 13 stakes including seconds in the Jim Beam (G3) and Woodlawn (G3) prior to a fifth behind Snow Chief as the longest shot on the board (20-1) in the 1986 Preakness Stakes (G1). He was retired in 1992 after winning 14 of 117 starts and nearly a half-million dollars in purse earnings.

In the day’s co-feature, the Wide Country for three-year-old fillies taking place one race prior to the Miracle Wood, the Ham Smith-trained Roanan Goddess is the 5-2 morning line favorite to build on her win in the Xtra Heat last out. Jeiron Barbosa will ride.