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Dual Stakes Winner Lebda Seeking Return to Form in $100,000 Concern
Still Having Fun Facing Nine Stakes Winners in $100,000 Frank Whiteley
Bal Harbour Drops into Tough Spot in $100,000 Richard Small
LAUREL, MD – In an effort to rediscover his multiple stakes-winning form, Euro Stable’s Lebda will race over his home track for the first time in more than eight months and the first as a gelding in Saturday’s $100,000 Concern at Laurel Park.
The seven-furlong Concern is one of six stakes worth $600,000 in purses on the nine-race Fall Festival of Racing program that includes the $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley at six furlongs and $100,000 Richard W. Small going about 1 1/16 miles, both for 3-year-olds and up.
First race post time is 12:25 p.m.
Lebda won the one-mile Miracle Wood and 1 1/16-mile Private Terms over the winter at Laurel to kick off his 3-year-old season, the latter coming one day before live racing was paused in Maryland for 2 ½ months amid the coronavirus pandemic. The son of Raison d’Etat has yet to find the same kind of success since returning in late June, hitting the board once in four starts when he was third in the Robert Hilton Memorial Aug. 28 at Charles Town.
“Maybe he likes the winter, the cold weather. That would be OK for me,” trainer Claudio Gonzalez said. “He loves Laurel. He trains here every day; it’s home for him.”
Lebda owns three wins and a third from four starts at Laurel, the last coming in the March 14 Private Terms. He ran sixth in the Ohio Derby (G3) and Haskell (G1) over the summer before being cut back to sprinting in the seven-furlong Hilton. Last out, he ran up against then-undefeated Yaupon in the six-furlong Chick Lang (G3) Oct. 1 at Pimlico Race Course.
“That was a really tough race. The winner was very impressive,” Gonzalez said. “[Jockey] Alex [Cintron] said he was going along and then at the three-eighths, half-mile pole he did something funny and then he stopped. He didn’t want to run. That’s when we decided to geld him.”
Third in the 2019 Iroquois (G3) in Kentucky, Lebda has worked four times this month, most recently going a half-mile in 48.40 seconds Nov. 22. Gonzalez – in line to lead all Maryland trainers in wins for a fourth straight year – has been pleased with his progress.
“He’s come back like he was before. He breezes in the morning and he’s doing really good,” he said. “He breezes in company in the morning and it’s like he’s galloping next to the other horse. We talked about it and decided we wanted to run here and take a chance.”
Regular rider Cintron will climb back aboard from Post 6 in a field of 10 at co-topweight of 124 pounds.
While Monday Morning Qb, impressive winner of the seven-furlong Heft last December at Laurel and most recently the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 24, was nominated but will be sitting this race out, Cash is King and LC Racing and trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. will still be represented by gelding Johnny Ritt.
Johnny Ritt has placed twice in stakes this year, including a runner-up finish in the six-furlong Jersey Shore Oct. 14 at Monmouth Park. After three straight stakes tries he dropped back into allowance company last out Nov. 3 at Parx, led through a half-mile before dropping back to be third, then came on again and got up to be a clear second at the Concern distance.
“He’s a very honest horse. He’ll give you his best effort every time. He’s been stakes-placed several times and is just a real hard-tryer, a real tough guy. We like him a lot,” Reid said. “The races keep coming up for him so we keep going, and he seems to be getting better with every start. He’s learning from the experience and he’s going into it very well. He’s not scared. He had a beautiful breeze here the other day in 47 and change so we’re really happy with how we’re coming into this.”
Sheldon Russell, who rode Monday Morning Qb in the Classic, has the assignment from Post 8.
Stablemates Bright Dawn, a West Virginia-bred stakes winner, and Carey Times were entered for trainer Ferris Allen III. Burning Daylight Farms Inc.’s Bright Dawn captured the 4 ½-furlong Coin Collector May 23 at Charles Town and has been winless going up against his elders in four of five subsequent races. He has run well in his only two starts at Laurel – losing a six-furlong maiden special weight by a neck Jan. 25 before coming back to win by the same margin under similar conditions Feb. 16.
“He looked a lot sharper earlier in the year and he’s developed a couple of quirks in his running style over his last three or four races. He’s kind of wanted to suck himself back the first sixteenth of a mile in races, which is really weird because he showed lots of speed the first three or four races of his career,” Allen said. “If you look at his last race at Parx, even though he finished fifth it was a really good race. He was not beaten very far and he was right in behind the pace. And of course he’s been facing older horses when he’s run in allowance company. If you look a little closer at his form, his last race particularly is a lot better than it looks on paper.”
Hickory Ridge Farm’s Carey Times has yet to face stakes company but has raced exclusively at Laurel through 14 starts, with three wins, four seconds and a third. He won back-to-back allowances at Laurel in the fall, the first against fellow Maryland-breds, then rallied to be second in an off-the-turf optional claiming allowance sprinting 5 ½ furlongs Oct. 31.
“He’s run three bang-up races back to back and is a very fast horse. He’s run in [1:09] and change. We think he’ll get the seven-eighths, particularly since he’s matured a little bit,” Allen said. “He had the Maryland-bred protection for the one win, but that’s not really much protection these days. There’s a lot of good Maryland-breds around. His last several races have been impressive. He had some trouble in his last race when he was second. I don’t know that he was necessarily best in that race, but he didn’t get a real chance to run down the winner.”
Francatelli, a stakes winner on the grass at Woodbine who was impressive in a front-running optional allowance score on the dirt last out Oct. 30 at Laurel; stablemate Pianzi, a winner of three straight this summer at Laurel; Air Token, Dreams Untold, Golden Candy and Informative are also entered.
Still Having Fun Facing Nine Stakes Winners in $100,000 Frank Whiteley
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing’s Grade 2 winner Still Having Fun has found a tough spot to make his comeback, facing fellow graded winners Laki and Majestic Dunhill and a total of 10 stakes winners in a field of 14 for Saturday’s $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley.
Trained by Laurel Park-based Tim Keefe, Still Having Fun has raced just six times the past two years following his breakout season of 2018 where he won three stakes including the Woody Stephens (G2) and purses of more than $470,000, and was third in the Malibu (G1).
The 5-year-old Old Fashioned gelding ran fifth in the Toboggan (G3) and third in the General George (G3) over the winter, returned from the pause in racing amid the coronavirus pandemic to be eighth in the Carter (G1), then went back to the sidelines. He returned to the work tab in early October and has been breezing steadily since.
“He’s doing well, he’s fine. We had a couple little hiccups here and there but he’s back on track and training well, training super. I’ll be anxious to get him back and see what he can do. I’ve been very pleased with him,” Keefe said. “Obviously any spot in which I put him is going to be a tough spot. He doesn’t have any conditions, so any race is going to be a tough race. We just want to see if he’s back to his old form.
“He’s always trained very well. I’m happy with everything he’s doing in the morning but until you put him the racing environment in the afternoon to see not so much what they remember but make sure his interest is still there and if he’s got that competitiveness he’s always had,” he added. “He shows it in the morning. I have no reason to think he won’t in the afternoon. He’s a little bit older, a little bit more mature, so I’m looking forward to getting him back running.”
Laki and Eastern Bay, separated by a nose while respectively running 1-2 in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) Oct. 3 at Pimlico Race Course, return in the Whiteley. A stakes winner each of the last four years, 7-year-old Laki snapped a string of three straight runner-up finishes in the De Francis, which was his first career win at Pimlico. He has a record of 8-6-3 in 19 lifetime starts at Laurel.
“Just how it unfolded early, I thought things might have went a little differently. I thought we’d be a little bit closer and as it worked out we were in the exact right spot we should have been,” trainer Damon Dilodovico said. “But I did have anxieties early on because he always seems to find a little bit of trouble when he races at Pimlico. I was a little bit concerned about that but he stepped up and ran huge.
“He’s doing well. I was happy that we were able to give him a little time after the Dash,” he added. “Most of his races off a layoff have been very competitive so we’re looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully he gets a clean trip.”
Eastern Bay and turf stakes-winning stablemate Complete Pass were both entered by trainer Claudio Gonzalez. Robert D. Bone’s Eastern Bay won the six-furlong Polynesian before his rally came up just short in the De Francis, one of three wins from five starts since being claimed.
“He didn’t break sharp that day and that’s why he was so far back. When you lose like that, it hurts,” Gonzalez said. “But I always say this is a classy horse. We just have to keep him happy. When he’s happy he runs his best, and he’s very happy right now. It’s going to be tough. He’s going to have to run.”
Bone also owns Completed Pass, an accomplished grass sprinter that is also coming off a tough defeat over Preakness (G1) weekend, losing by a neck in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint over a yielding course. Winner of the Laurel Dash on grass Sept. 7, he last tried the dirt when fifth in a third-level allowance July 4.
“Based on how he’s training every day, we talked to the owner and decided to run because he’s training really good in the morning,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to give him the winter off because there’s no more grass [races]. He’s doing really good, so we decided to run.”
R.A. Hill Stable’s Majestic Dunhill is coming off a head victory over next-out winner Share the Ride in the seven-furlong Bold Ruler, contested Oct. 31 in the Belmont Park mud. The 5-year-old gelding has shown a fondness for Laurel by hitting the board in all four of his starts, including a runner-up finish in the General George (G3) and a third in the Polynesian in 2019. Also third in the 2017 Laurel Futurity, he won the seven-furlong City of Laurel in 2018.
Rounding out the field are 2020 Say Florida Sandy winner Arthur’s Hope; Penguin Power, a multiple stakes winner with 13 wins from 17 starts; 2019 Maryland Million Sprint winner Taco Supream; 2018 Star de Naskra winner Whereshetoldmetogo; 2018 Buffalo Man winner Zenden; Arch Cat, third to Majestic Dunhill in the Bold Ruler; Bybee, Charge to Victory and Day the Music Died.
“He’s been wonderful, actually. I don’t think he could be doing any better at the moment, to be honest,” said Brittany Russell, trainer of Whereshetoldmetogo. “[We wanted to] stay home and run him out of his stall. He’s had success at Laurel. I’m really looking forward to running him this weekend. I hope he shows up and runs as well as I think he could.”
Bal Harbour Drops into Tough Spot in $100,000 Richard Small
Red Oak Stable’s Bal Harbour, having faced graded-stakes company in 11 consecutive starts over the past two years, will take a step back in an effort to move forward in Saturday’s $100,000 Richard W. Small.
Bal Harbour has run third in all four of his starts since joining trainer Greg Sacco in 2020 after racing 19 times for trainer Todd Pletcher. Counting this year he has placed in nine graded-stakes including second by a half-length in the 2019 Woodward (G1), ahead of such accomplished horses as Toms d’Etat and Yoshida.
All four of Bal Harbour’s races this year have come at Sacco’s summer home of Monmouth Park – in the Monmouth Cup (G3), Iselin (G3), Salvator Mile (G3) and Monmouth (G3) – at distances ranging from a mile to 1 1/8 miles. He beat graded winners Harpers First Ride and Monongahela – both of whom return in the Small – in the Monmouth Cup, won by subsequent Woodward winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) show finisher Global Campaign.
“He’s run in four graded-stakes at Monmouth and showed up in every race,” Sacco said. “He’s a hard-trying horse and he’s trained really good since we got to Belmont from Monmouth. Going into this race he’s had four really good works. Maybe the class drop from the Grade 3s to the stake will be the ticket.
“He’s been keeping some really talented company,” he added. “He tries too hard not to win so we’re really hoping to win. Richard Small was a Vietnam vet and a top horseman, someone I admired as a kid over the years, and running up against him was a difficult thing to do because he was an excellent horseman and a tough guy to beat. [To win] a race honoring him would mean a lot.”
Bal Harbour, whose stakes-winning dam, Casino Transaction, was trained by Sacco, has been beaten by a total of 10 lengths in his four starts this year. His last time out of graded company came when he ran third in the 2018 Queens County at Aqueduct, also the site of his last win on Nov. 23, 2018 in the Gio Ponti.
Trevor McCarthy will ride Bal Harbour from the rail in a field of 10.
“He has a little bit of a problem sometimes when you make a move,” Sacco said. “He kind of eases up a little bit. He’s a little bit of a tricky horse to ride and I think that might be part of the reason why he hasn’t won even though he’s run hard and tries 100 percent all the time.
“It looks like a competitive race on paper, some horse that really love Laurel with maybe a horse for course angle, but we’re coming in the right way,” he added. “He’s had four really good works. He hasn’t run a bad race for us all year; he hardly runs a bad race. Hopefully we get the right trip and Trevor times it right. We’d love to win it. We’re not going in thinking it’s any kind of gimmee but I think with the right trip he can get the job done.”
MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride won the Oct. 1 Pimlico Special (G3) and Sept. 5 Deputed Testamony in successive starts for trainer Claudio Gonzalez, but was unable to overcome a wide trip and finished second to Monday Morning Qb in the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 24.
The 4-year-old Maryland-bred Paynter gelding has never been worse than third in eight career starts at Laurel, six of them wins, and is three-for-five with one second at the distance. Angel Cruz is named to ride from Post 5.
“He loves it here, he loves Laurel. It’s home for him. It’s his backyard. He’ll go over there, walk to the paddock and run,” Gonzalez said. “I’m happy with him. The Pimlico Special was a really tough race. And the last one he had to carry 126 [pounds] and the horse that beat him had , but he ran big. All the time he tries. He came back good from the race. We gave him some time, a little more than a month, and he’s telling us he’s ready.”
Monongahela, who beat Bal Harbour in the 2019 Iselin, will be making his 34th start, eighth at Laurel and first in three starts since joining trainer Brittany Russell. The winner of more than $529,000 in purse earnings was beaten a neck by Alwaysmining in the 1 1/16-mile John B. Campbell at Laurel to kick off his 6-year-old campaign.
Since then, Monongahela’s four starts have come in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. He debuted for Russell running fourth in a one-mile optional claiming allowance then came from way back to be fifth in the one-mile, 70-yard Hard Spun for Pennsylvania-breds over Presque Isle Downs’ synthetic surface. Sheldon Russell rides from Post 8.
“We’ve been dying to run him at home, to be honest. I just want to run him at home and see what we have. Sheldon knows him, he’s been working him, so hopefully he’ll step up and run well at home,” Brittany Russell said. “The first time I ran him I definitely ran him back too quick, not knowing him as well. Then we shipped him to Presque Isle for the stake and he had never run on the synthetic.
“He got away from the gate terrible that day and to be fair, he came with a run so we weren’t terribly disappointed. But, at the same time you’re still kind of like, ‘Ok, well, now what do we do?’” she added. “It was one of those races where it was disappointing but it’s not the horse’s fault, either. We’re just hoping for a clean smooth trip, no excuses, and hopefully he runs well.”
Also entered are multiple stakes winners Cordmaker, third in the 2019 and 2020 Pimlico Special, Forewarned and Wait for It; 2018 Mexican Triple Crown winner Kukulkan; 2018 Monmouth Cup winner Name Changer; 2019 Iowa Derby winner Top Line Growth, four-for-five lifetime at Laurel; and Midnight Act.