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Monday Morning Qb Debuts on Turf in $100,000 James Murphy
Undefeated Fillies Caravel, Princess Grace Tangle in $100,000 Hilltop
BALTIMORE – Cash is King and LC Racing’s stakes winner Monday Morning Qb, at one time under consideration for the 145th Preakness Stakes (G1), will instead make his turf debut Saturday in the $100,000 James W. Murphy at Pimlico Race Course.
The 55th running of the Murphy for 3-year-olds and 48th renewal of the $100,000 Hilltop for 3-year-old fillies, both scheduled for a mile on the grass, are part of a Preakness Day program of 12 stakes races, seven graded, worth $2.7 million in purses featuring the $1 million Preakness for 3-year-olds and $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies.
Trained by Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr., Monday Morning Qb returned from a seven-month break between starts to set the pace in Maryland’s traditional Preakness prep, the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Sept. 7 at Laurel, but was passed late and finished 1 ½ lengths behind winner Happy Saver. It was another nine lengths back to Big City Bob in third.
Monday Morning Qb, winner of the Heft Stakes last December at Laurel Park to cap his juvenile season, hadn’t raced since running fourth in the Withers (G3) Feb. 1 at Aqueduct. Impressed by his effort off the layoff in the Tesio, the connections gave the 1 3/16-mile Preakness some thought.
“I [wasn’t] real comfortable coming back in a month after going a mile and an eighth off a [seven]-month layoff. Trying to stretch for another sixteenth of a mile [would] be asking a lot. I’m much more comfortable with the mile turf race,” Reid said. “We’re going to go ahead and take a shot where we know we can be competitive. I think he’d be competitive wherever we run this horse, but I like the turn back to the flat mile on the turf.”
Monday Morning Qb is by Imagining, a Grade 1 winner on grass with nearly $1.2 million in purse earnings for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Reid had Monday Morning Qb entered in an oversubscribed Laurel Park turf allowance Aug. 28, but was unable to draw into the race.
Instead, they took aim at the Tesio where Monday Morning Qb set solid fractions of 24.76 seconds, 48.82 and 1:13.13 until being overtaken at the top of the stretch, but battled on despite failing to change leads through the stretch.
“We’ve been working on that in the mornings just to make sure we can’t get that straightened out,” Reid said. “If he had switched leads on time, I don’t know if he would have beaten that horse, but he certainly would have been a little bit closer.”
Monday Morning Qb drew Post 9 in a full field of 14 for the Murphy, named in honor of the late trainer that won nearly 1,400 races and more than 50 stakes and $24 million in purses starting in 1965. He was named the MTHA’s Trainer of the Year in 2006, three years before he died at age 82.
“You never really know until you try it, but there are definite indications that he will handle the turf so we’ll see what happens. It seems like the whole sport is turning to turf racing now, but there are plenty of opportunities to run on the turf around if he handles this one,” Reid said. “We definitely wanted to see him on the grass before the end of the year, and this looks like it would be a good opportunity. I like the little turn back going from a mile and an eighth back to a mile and switching surfaces. He came out of the last race really well.”
Alex G. Campbell Jr.’s homebred Bye Bye Melvin teamed up with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to win the one-mile Saranac (G3) Aug. 29 over a soft turf course at Saratoga by a head over Don Juan Kitten, who also returns in the Murphy.
Trained by Graham Motion, who captured last year’s Murphy with subsequent Grade 3 winner English Bee, Bye Bye Melvin will be reunited with Velazquez having drawn Post 13. Later Saturday, Velazquez will be aboard Preakness favorite Authentic, the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.
“It was very soft ground but he kind of lived up to the potential we thought he had, and I like this spot coming back at the same distance,” Motion said. “Johnny can ride him because he’s there, so it’s a good reason to run. I thought he was very game last time.”
Another horse exiting the Saranac is Daniel M. Ryan’s Vanzzy. The Verrazzano colt was third in the Kent (G3) and won the Jersey Derby ahead of the Saranac, where he was unable to recover after bobbling and being bumped at the start, finishing last of eight.
Besides Monday Morning Qb, other horses making the switch from dirt to turf for the Murphy are So Street, eighth in the Sept. 26 New Castle Stakes 19 days after finishing second in the 5 ½ furlong Laurel Dash on grass; Paradise Pride and new gelding Jack the Umpire, respectively fourth and seventh in the Robert Hilton Memorial Aug. 28 at Charles Town.
Also entered are Oceans Map, a winner of two straight going 1 1/16 miles on the Monmouth Park turf, Chocolate Bar, Sunsation, Reconvene, Buy Land and Sea and Andesite.
Undefeated Fillies Caravel, Princess Grace Tangle in $100,000 Hilltop
Homebreds Princess Grace and Caravel, the latter a stakes winner in her last start, will put their perfect records on the line in Saturday’s $100,000 Hilltop.
Owned and trained by Elizabeth Merryman, whose family has deep roots in Maryland racing, Caravel is a gray or roan daughter of Mizzen Mast that has won each of her three races, all this year, starting with back-to-back five-furlong turf sprints over her elders at Penn National. Stretched out to six furlongs last out, she responded with a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Lady Erie over Presque Isle Downs’ all-weather surface Aug. 24.
Paco Lopez will ride Caravel from Post 3 in a field of 13 3-year-old fillies.
Susan and John Moore’s Princess Grace went unraced at 2 and has been perfect so far at 3, breaking her maiden by 5 ½ lengths Aug. 2 at Colonial Downs and following up with a 1 ¾-length decision Sept. 5 at Monmouth Park. Out of the Silent Name mare Masquerade, both her races came over older horses at the Hilltop’s one-mile distance.
“She’s started twice, won both of her starts, and we think she’s a talented 3-year-old filly that we’re going to try to get some black type on,” trainer Mike Stidham said. “We trained her mother. She was a real honest, consistent filly. She didn’t win any big races but every time we sent her out there she was one of those competitive, tough fillies. This filly has kind of taken after her mom being pretty solid, and she’s done everything right so far.”
Joe Bravo has the mount from Post 9.
Trainer Graham Motion has won the Hilltop four times, most recently with Happy Mesa in 2017, and he will go for a fifth with Alex G. Campbell Jr.’s stakes-placed Lucky Jingle and Irish-bred Shimmering.
A maiden winner over a yielding Laurel Park turf course last summer, Lucky Jingle has not raced since rallying to be third, just a nose out of second, in the one-mile Wait a While on grass Nov. 30 at Gulfstream Park. She has displayed versatility, winning a seven-furlong allowance over Keeneland’s main track last fall.
“She’s coming off a layoff so she’ll be a bit of a price in there,” Motion said. “I’ve been trying to find a spot for her to come back in. She’s can run on the turf and the dirt.”
Watership Down Stud’s Shimmering will be making her North American debut in the Hilltop, having raced five times in England with one win and one third and finishing off the board in a pair of group stakes. She will break from Post 10 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez up, one spot inside Trevor McCarthy and Lucky Jingle.
Completing the field are stakes winner American Giant; French Group 3-placed Secret Time, racing first time in the U.S.; Phipps Stable homebred Vigilantes Way, a winner of two straight by 15 ½ combined lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey; Madam Maclean, Chart, Evil Lyn, Ylikedis, Aunt Nadine and Hollywood Hoopla.