Luna Belle Launching Comeback in $100,000 Distaff

Luna Belle Launching Comeback in $100,000 Distaff

Johnyz From Albany Back for More in $100,000 Sprint

LAUREL, MD – Multiple Maryland-bred champion filly Luna Belle, a five-time stakes winner that has gone unraced since last spring, is set to launch her long-awaited comeback in Saturday’s $100,000 Maryland Million Distaff at Laurel Park.

The Distaff for fillies and mares 3 and older and $100,000 Sprint for 3-year-olds and up, both going seven furlongs, are among 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.

Highlighted by the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up, first race post time is 11:30 a.m.

Owned by Deborah Greene and trainer Hamilton Smith and bred by Smith, Greene and her late father, Fred Greene Jr., Luna Belle will be racing for the first time in 513 days in the Distaff after having her five-stakes win streak snapped in last spring’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2), her graded debut.

“She came up with some minor problems,” Smith said. “She came out of the Black-Eyed Susan with some bone bruising and we had to give her time for that. After one thing or another we got her back into training. We were debating whether to not run her anymore and sell her as a broodmare in foal, and she did not catch.

“We decided to put her back into training and if she did well, we’d go ahead run her and then decide whether we want to sell her or not,” he added. “We have her booked in Kentucky in November, so this race will have a lot to say about whether we want to sell or keep her.”

The Keeneland Breeding Stock Sale is scheduled for Nov. 8-16.

Luna Belle is by Great Notion, who has had at least one Maryland Million winner for 13 straight years. Fourth by a length following a tough trip in last year’s Lassie, she won the Maryland Juvenile Fillies to cap a campaign where she was voted the state’s top 2-year-old female. She began her 3-year-old championship season with wins in the Xtra Heat, Wide Country, Beyond the Wire and Weber City Miss, all at Laurel, the latter earning her an automatic berth in the Black-Eyed Susan.

“When she had that streak of wins, she pretty much dominated,” Smith said. “Watching the replays of her races, she got in some traffic jams and stuff where a normal horse wouldn’t have recovered and run as well as she did. But once she got loose, she just exploded. She was just much the best at that point in time.”

Luna Belle has been working steadily for her comeback since early August, posting nine times breezes at Laurel capped by back-to-back five-furlong bullet moves in 59.60 seconds Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.

“We’re very pleased with the way she’s doing right now, so hopefully she’ll run her race,” Smith said. “I’d like to have gotten a race into her before the Maryland Million, but it didn’t happen. She’s been training well and her works have been pretty consistent, pretty strong. Hopefully she’ll come back and be as competitive as she was last spring. That would be nice. If she does that then she’ll run well.”

Smith also entered Mens Grille Racing’s Response Time, a 5-year-old mare that has earned six of her eight career wins at Laurel, was second to Grade 3-placed Beguine in the July 29 Alma North, and exits a 1 ¼-length triumph in the 6 ½-furlong Timonium Distaff over multiple stakes winner Malibu Beauty, also entered in the Distaff.

“She ran well last time. Going around that bullring you never know how they’ll perform, but she handled it well. That was one of her better races. She sat off the lead a little bit, then took the lead and went on with it and was pulling away there at the end,” Smith said. “She’s been a consistent horse all year, running real well. We expect her to run well again Saturday.”

Among those lining up against Luna Belle are multiple stakes winners Fille d’Esprit and Malibu Moonshine. Happy Face Racing Stable’s Malibu Moonshine, Maryland’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2022, won the Maryland Juvenile Fillies and Gin Talking to cap last season and ran third in the Feb. 5 Ruthless before going to the sidelines. Based in New York, she returned to be eighth in the seven-furlong Miss Disco July 29 at Laurel.

CJI Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm’s Fille d’Esprit is a 15-time career winner, 13 at Laurel, and is 2-for-3 this year after a 2022 campaign that saw her win five stakes including the Distaff and run third in the Barbara Fritchie (G3). Second in the Fritchie Feb. 18, she returned a winner Sept. 29 at Laurel to push her lifetime bankroll to $777,881.

Fille d’Esprit’s Jerry Robb-trained stablemate, 2022 Lewes winner Mama G’s Wish; Mavilus, winner of the 2022 Maryland Million Distaff Starter Handicap; Sweet Gracie, third in last year’s Distaff; Moonboots and Quiet Imagination are also entered.

Maryland-breds on the also-eligible list are Intrepid Daydream, a winner of two straight including Laurel’s Shine Again Sept. 16, Isabella’s Glory and Canoodle.

Johnyz From Albany Back for More in $100,000 Sprint

Charles J. Reed’s consistent homebred Johnyz From Albany, front-running winner of the Maryland Million Nursery in his stakes debut last fall, returns to face a solid group of older horses in Saturday’s $100,000 Sprint at Laurel Park.

Johnyz From Albany became the first stakes winner for his sire, Blofeld, with a dominant five-length triumph in the 2022 Nursery to give trainer Dale Capuano his record 15th in the Maryland Million.

In his final start at 2, Johnyz From Albany ran second in the Maryland Juvenile behind undefeated state-bed champion 2-year-old male Post Time. Capuano retired to open 2023 and handed the training duties over to his nephew, Phillip Capuano.

“I can’t really give enough credit to all the owners that decided to keep their horses with me, especially a horse like Johny. He really is a nice horse. He came back from his time off this winter. I think it was the right decision to do at the time,” Phillip Capuano said. “After his last race in the Maryland Juvenile it looked like Post Time was going to be the tour de force going into the winter, and Dale just figured he’d give him time off and he’d be better as a 3-year-old.”

Johnyz From Albany returned to run second behind Grade 2-placed Fort Warren in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance May 19 at historic Pimlico Race Course on the undercard of the Black-Eyed Susan (G2). His subsequent start was his first on turf, a 5 ½-furlong Laurel allowance against older horses June 11, where he ran fourth by less than a length – the only time he has finished worse than third.

Two of Johnyz From Albany’s last three races have resulted in wins, the most recent a 5 ¼-length off-the-turf optional claiming allowance romp Sept. 24 at Pimlico, also in open company over elders. He tuned up for the Sprint with a sharp half-mile breeze in 48 seconds Sunday.

“He’s run a couple big races this year,” Capuano said. “We gave him a little break between his win in July and then coming back. That last race set up as a good prep for him. He’s happy and he’s doing well.”

Kasey K Racing Stable, Michael Day and Final Turn Racing Stables’ Twisted Ride, based at Parx, will be making his Maryland debut in the Sprint. The 4-year-old Great Notion gelding owns eight career wins, four in stakes, the most recent in the Aug. 21 Banjo Picker against fellow Pennsylvania-breds. Last out he was third behind 11-time winner and Grade 3-placed Stage Left and next-out winner Spun and Won in the five-furlong Rumson Sept. 3 at Monmouth Park.

George Sharp’s Hello Hot Rod won three straight races capped by the 2021 Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct for co-owner and trainer Brittany Russell to open his 3-year-old season before being sold at auction for $335,000. The 5-year-old Mosler gelding raced primarily in the Midwest before returning to Russell over the winter, beaten a length when second in the seven-furlong Frank Whiteley April 15.

CJI Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm’s Al Loves Josie made his debut in the 2021 Maryland Million Nursery. He has gone on to win eight races, seven at Laurel, and place in three stakes including a second after setting the pace in the six-furlong Challedon Sept. 10 at Pimlico. Seeking his first Sprint triumph, trainer John Robb’s nine Maryland Million wins is third among trainers.

Holy Synchronicity, third behind Grade 3 winners Lightening Larry and Wondrwherecraigis in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash July 29 at Laurel; Mocephus, riding a two-race win streak; Find Faith, Going to the Lead and Seven’s Eleven are also entered. On the also-eligible list is Maryland-bred Goodafternoonoscar, second or third in seven of 10 starts this year.