Evenly Matched Field to Line Up for $125,000 Turf

Evenly Matched Field to Line Up for $125,000 Turf

Coconut Cake Back to Defend Title in $125,000 Ladies
Witty, Sky’s Not Falling Meet Again in $100,000 Turf Sprint

LAUREL, MD – Five horses, including each of the top four finishers led by defending champion Wicked Prankster, and hard-luck 9-year-old Cannon’s Roar help comprise a wide-open group of seasoned runners in Saturday’s $125,000 Maryland Million Turf at Laurel Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Turf for 3-year-olds and up is the fifth of eight stakes and four starter stakes on the 38th Jim McKay Maryland Million program, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state. Also scheduled for the Exceller turf course are the $125,000 Ladies for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles and $100,000 Turf Sprint, a 5 ½-furlong dash for 3-year-olds and up.

Doors open at 10 a.m. EST with a first-race post time of 11:30 a.m. Headlining the card is the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles where defending champion Ournationonparade looks to become just the sixth horse to win the Classic in back-to-back years and only the seventh with three Maryland Million victories.

Owned and trained by Sam Davis, Wicked Prankster has gone winless with two thirds in five starts this year since his front-running three-quarter-length victory in the 2022 Turf. The 5-year-old gelding has not been out since being pulled up in the Aug. 19 Find at Laurel but shows a string of steady works including successive bullets over Laurel’s main track, the most recent a half-mile move in 48 seconds Oct. 7, fastest of 33 horses.

Larry Johnson’s homebred Street Copper edged Charles Blanford’s Crabs N Beer by a neck for second in last year’s Turf. It was the second straight narrow loss in the Turf for Street Copper, the lukewarm 4-1 program favorite that was beaten a head when third in 2021. He exits a half-length victory going a mile on the Colonial Downs turf Sept. 7, when he raced for a $30,000 tag.

Crabs N Beer placed in stakes on turf and dirt last summer prior to his big run in the Turf. Still seeking his first stakes win, he came up a neck short when second to multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Field Pass in the Find. He is listed at 7-2 on the morning line.

Just 1 ½ lengths behind Crabs N Beer in fourth was Alberts Racing’s homebred Johng (10-1), a 6-year-old gelding that has made 29 career starts and was second by a nose to Somekindofmagician in the 2021 Turf. Trainer Tim Keefe, a three-time Classic winner, has yet to win the Turf.

“I don’t seem to think I’ve ever got the best of that guy. He’s always trying,” Keefe said. “I told Will [Alberts], I know it might sound crazy but he’s run some decent races in the Maryland Million. I said all along let’s give him another year and try him and if he’s still going well and everything’s great, let’s point him toward the Maryland Million. So, here we are. He’s doing well. It’s not a crazy idea.”

Taking Risks Stable’s Cannon’s Roar will be making his fifth straight start in the Turf and first for trainer Phillip Capuano, who took over for his uncle, all-time Maryland Million leader Dale Capuano, following his retirement to start 2023. Cannon’s Roar was seventh in 2019 and 2022, second by a length in 2020 and fourth by a half-length in 2021 – run down both times after taking a lead into the stretch.

This will actually be the sixth Maryland Million for Cannon’s Roar, who was fourth, beaten a length, in the 2018 Turf Starter Handicap. Also placed in three other stakes, including the 2021 Laurel Dash, he comes off a half-length victory going a mile Aug. 19 on the Laurel turf and is rated at 6-1 on the morning line.

“We’re going to try and see if he can’t finally get the Maryland Million Turf after trying for so many years. He’s 9 years old and he just keeps on going,” Capuano said. “He’s doing good. He’s just a cool horse to have around the barn. You just expect to see him year in and year out. He’s always knocking on the door; he’s right there. He’s had a few seconds this year, both here and down at Tampa, but he got a win this year so the connections are happy. He came out of it good, so we’ll give it a shot. Hopefully he can finally take down the race this year, that’d be great.”

Also entered are multiple dirt stakes winner Tappin Cat, making just his third turf start; Lacco Ameno, Jack’s Legend, Fletcher, Starstruck Notion and Maryland-bred also-eligible The Addison Pour.

Coconut Cake Back to Defend Title in $125,000 Ladies

NRS Stable, James Chambers and Avalon Farm’s Coconut Cake got her breakthrough win in last year’s $125,000 Maryland Million Ladies, and the 6-year-mare returns Saturday attempting to become just the fifth horse and first in five years to defend its title.

Countus In (1989-91), Mz Zill Bear (1993-95), Hail Hillary (2003-04) and My Sistersledge (2017-18) each won the Ladies in back-to-back years. Monster Sleeping (2013, 2015) is also a two-time winner.

Second choice on the morning line at odds of 3-1, Coconut Cake had placed in two stakes each on the turf and dirt, and was fourth behind three-time Maryland Million winner Hello Beautiful in the 2021 Distaff, before rallying for a popular head victory in last year’s Ladies.

“Any win altogether is great. Any win on Maryland Million day is even better, especially with a horse I’ve had as long as her,” Tim Keefe said. “I bought her as a yearling, I’m co-owner and I train her, so it’s fun. It was a great race.”

Coconut Cake ran one more time in 2022, finishing third in the Forever Together at Aqueduct. Following her winter vacation she returned May 28 at historic Pimlico Race Course to be fifth in an optional claimer prior to her last-to-first move to win the six-furlong Jameela July 1 at Laurel.

“I gave her a little bit of time off and brought her back. She won the Jameela going three-quarters, which really wasn’t my ideal spot for her but it obviously turned out to be a good spot. She ran a great race,” Keefe said. “It certainly helped that the course was a little heavy and tiring. She was, as usual, lagging toward the back and came running. Sheldon [Russell] rode her perfectly and gets along great with her.”

In two subsequent starts Coconut Cake ran sixth after pressing the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Big Dreyfus July 15 and was seventh, beaten only three lengths, in the 1 1/16-mile All Brandy Aug. 19, both at Laurel.

“The biggest thing with her is getting her to relax and settle. We came back in the Big Dreyfus and she ran one of her best numbers in that the year before so I was a little disappointed in that. She just wasn’t relaxed and wasn’t settled,” Keefe said. “She’s been a little tricky that way. If she’s in the right frame of mind and everything’s great, she can relax and settle off a horse and come running, that’s her best move.”

Keefe also entered Glenangus Farm’s Proper Storm, winner of a one-mile claiming event Sept. 17 at Pimlico by 3 ¼ lengths in her most recent start. Also pre-entered in the 1 1/16-mile Turf Distaff Starter Handicap, the 5-year-old mare owns one win and one second in her only previous tries going 1 1/8 miles.

“I think starter race probably from a competition standpoint might suit her better, but the mile and an eighth she’ll love. The farther the better for her,” Keefe said. “I talked to [owner] Jim [Dresher] and let him really decide which path he’d like to take and he decided to go in this race. She’s obviously going to be a longshot in the race but she’s training well and who knows what can happen. If it’s her day and she gets the right trip and everything’s good, I think she could be a big player in getting a piece of it.”

Smith Farm & Stable’s New Jersey homebred Precious Avary won three straight races this spring and summer at Monmouth Park capped by the one-mile Jersey Girl Handicap on turf and returns to the grass after finishing off the board in back-to-back dirt sprints. Silhouette’s Amplio Esquema takes her third straight shot at the Ladies after finishing third by less than a length last year and fourth by two lengths in 2021, both times at double-digit odds.

Beautiful Gorgeous, Downtown Katie, Golden Heart, Clouds of White and Maryland-bred also-eligibles Naval Empire and Lifelovenlaughter are also entered.

Witty, Sky’s Not Falling Meet Again in $100,000 Turf Sprint

Witty and Sky’s Not Falling, separated by a head in last month’s Ben’s Cat, figure to be the main players once again in an overflow field of 16 entered for Saturday’s $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

Bred, owned and trained by Elizabeth Merryman, whose previous Maryland Million success came as the trainer of 2012 and 2013 Turf winner Roadhog, Witty is already a stakes winner on both dirt and turf. Merryman’s late father, John, was one of the founders of Maryland Million.

“I won a couple of Maryland Millions as a trainer but never as an owner or breeder,” Merryman said. “My father was so instrumental in developing the Maryland Million concept and such a fan of Maryland breeding and supporter of it, so it would be huge to win a Maryland Million race with a homebred. I know that however he runs – win, lose or draw – he’ll try his hardest. He always does.”

Moved to the turf full-time this summer by previous trainer McLane Hendriks, Merryman’s son, Witty ran second in three consecutive stakes beaten a total of 2 ½ lengths. Plagued by a series of poor starts, Witty broke sharply in the five-furlong Ben’s Cat Sept. 16 and had to overcome trouble both early and late to edge Sky’s Not Falling.

“It was a super effort because he didn’t have the best of trips, so he had to overcome that a bit, but so did the other horse. They were kind of on even terms in that regard,” Merryman said. “I think he really enjoys the grass, and I think it’s a little easier on him than the dirt. He has an easier time getting away from the gate. He’s doing really well, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Larry Johnson and RDM Racing Stable’s Sky’s Not Falling won last year’s Turf Sprint by a half-length in just his second start of the year. The 5-year-old gelding was second by 1 ½ lengths in 2021 and has not won since a one-mile optional claimer May 6 at Laurel. He was third behind Grade 3 winner Eons and multiple group-stakes winner Pao Alto in the 1 1/8-mile Prince George’s County July 15 at Laurel.

Grateful Bred is winless with four seconds in 11 starts since beating Sky’s Not Falling in the 2021 Turf Sprint, a race where the 7-year-old gelding finished fourth last year. Now 7, he dueled for the lead in the 5 ½-furlong Meadow Stable Sept. 2 at Colonial Downs before fading to seventh, beaten 3 ½ lengths.

Cynergy’s Star, Next Episode and Whenigettoheaven, respectively second, fourth and fifth in the Meadow Stable; Prince Pere, R B’s the Boss and Commanding General, 5-6-7 in the Ben’s Cat; Bandits Heart, a half to 2019 Distaff winner Anna’s Bandit that won the Dover on dirt at Delaware Park last fall in his second start; Tidewater, Odinson, Tenax, Calming Storm and Maryland-bred also-eligibles Monster Mason and Backnthewoods complete the field.