Multiple Stakes Winner Witty Back in Maryland with G2 Placing

Multiple Stakes Winner Witty Back in Maryland with G2 Placing


5YO Determined Kingdom Continues to Pay Dividends for Connections
Laurel Summer Meet Resumes with Nine-Race Program Friday, July 5

LAUREL, MD – Turf and dirt stakes winner Witty, who opened his 5-year-old season with a victory in the April 20 King T. Leatherbury at Laurel Park, was back in Maryland Sunday having earned his first graded-stakes placing in Saturday’s Highlander (G2) at Woodbine.

“He left early and he’s already back happily napping at Fair Hill,” trainer, breeder and co-owner Liz Merryman said. “He cooled out great and came back well.”

Witty had tested graded company three times previously, his best finish coming in his last attempt when he ran fifth in the 2022 Gallant Bob (G2) at Parx. Unhurried early in typical fashion, Witty came with a late run in the Highlander, a six-furlong turf sprint, to edge longshot Step Forward by a half-length for second, 2 ¼ lengths behind winner Filo Di Arianna, one of two in the race from Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.

“I thought he was doing really well and he really likes the six furlongs. It gives him a little extra ground,” Merryman said. “My biggest concern when the entries came out was that there wasn’t enough speed in the race to set up a good pace for him to close on, and that’s kind of how it panned out.”

By Great Notion out of the Congrats mare Zeezee Zoomzoom, Witty is a younger half-brother of two-time Grade 1-winning millionaire Caravel. Witty has been first or second in 17 of 23 starts, eight of them wins, including Laurel’s 2022 Spectacular Bid on dirt and 2023 Ben’s Cat and Maryland Million Turf and 2024 Leatherbury on grass.

This year’s $75,000 Ben’s Cat for Maryland-bred/sired 3-year-olds and up sprinting six furlongs on the Laurel turf is scheduled for Sunday, July 14. Nominations were due Sunday.

“I wish I had another week to the Ben’s Cat. It comes back in two weeks, which is pretty quick. I’ve nominated him, but we’ll have to see,” Merryman said. “We’ll probably go along and let him tell us. The longer turf sprints are few and far between and we will try to flesh out some of those. I think they’re more his wheelhouse. He likes to come from off the pace and close. He doesn’t seem really to want to run around two turns. He likes the closing sprinter angle.”

The Highlander was the third race this year for Witty and first since Merryman sold an ownership stake to Qatar Racing and Marc Detampel, who were also part-owners of Caravel. Witty closed to be second behind Grooms All Bizness in the five-furlong Jim McKay Turf Sprint on the undercard of the 149th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, May 18 at historic Pimlico Race Course.

“It was not in the works. It happened over a dinner table conversation after the Preakness, that night. It just seemed like it might be something that would kind of be fun for all the partners,” Merryman said of the private sale. “He won’t be running in my colors anymore, but I’ll always be training him.”

5YO Determined Kingdom Continues to Pay Dividends for Connections

Multiple stakes winner Determined Kingdom gave his connections much more than they expected with a season-opening victory this weekend at Laurel Park, an effort they hope to use as a springboard to another lucrative summer campaign.

Owned by Matt Dorman’s Determined Stable and trainer Phil Schoenthal’s Kingdom Bloodstock, Inc., 5-year-old Virginia-bred Determined Kingdom was a front-running 1 ¾-length winner of a third-level optional claiming allowance sprinting 5 ½ furlongs on the Laurel turf June 28, his first race in more than nine months.

“Last year we brought him off a layoff and he ran a really poor race,” Schoenthal said. “I was concerned that he was the kind of horse that just was always going to need a race off the layoff. The horse was training fine, doing good, he seemed happy. I was really pleased with him, but I’ve run four or five horses off long layoffs in the last month or two and some of them honestly just ran short. They got tired and weren’t fit enough.

“My mentality was he was probably going to get a bit tired and not be fit to win against top-class horses that are in current form,” he added. “The morning of the race when I realized it had scratched down to four horses, I got a little more excited thinking the worst I can be is fourth. As I got to handicapping it, I realized he was probably the speed of the speed if he wanted to be. It seems like the turf course at Laurel has been playing kind of hard and fast and maybe a little speed-favoring. The plan was just to go to the front and see how far he could go, and it all worked out.”

It was the seventh win from 20 starts for Determined Kingdom, pushing his career earnings to $481,789. He has won state-bred turf stakes each of the past three years at Colonial Downs and will be pointed to those races again when the meet opens next month. Already, Determined Kingdom is the third-richest horse trained by Schoenthal, following Grade 2 winner Miss Behaviour ($790,834) and Grade 3-placed multiple stakes winner Sonny Inspired ($643,045).

“You have to appreciate a horse that shows up year after year and is consistent. I trained a horse years ago named Sonny Inspired that reminds me of him. It’s not often that you get a horse that can win a stakes race at 2 and then at age 5, 6, 7 and 8 they’re still competing at a high level,” Schoenthal said. “A lot of horses plateau or don’t get better with age or are not precocious at 2 and get better later on.

“It’s kind of a unicorn to have a horse that’s precocious and fast at 2 and then again at 3 and 4 and 5. That part of it is really neat and rewarding and makes me as a trainer respect him and appreciate him all the more,” he added. “And a lot of horses don’t stay sound for multiple seasons. It’s hard to keep a racehorse running at a high level over multiple year campaigns. It’s just hard to do. Obviously, it feels good and we’re just thrilled to have him.”

Determined Kingdom fetched $47,000 during Fasig-Tipton’s 2020 Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling Sale at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, where the bay son of 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) and 2013 Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Animal Kingdom was one of the last horses to go through the ring.

“Matt Dorman has been a mainstay of mine for close to 20 years. He had just sold his company and decided he was going to get into the horse business in a much bigger way,” Schoenthal said. “He called me up the morning of the horse sale and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m at the horse sale, duh.’ He asked me what I was working on and I explained the scenario, that the horse that I like the most is the last horse to sell, but I can’t wait for him and then not get anything because I’ve got partnerships to buy horses for. So, Matt said to me, ‘Buy whatever horses you need to buy and at the end of the horse sale, if you still want him, I’ll buy him and we can partner on him.’

“Sure enough, the day went on and I bought a couple of horses for my partnerships and then he came in the ring late and sold to us for $47,000,” he added. “I would never have bought this horse if it hadn’t been for Matt Dorman. I couldn’t have afforded to wait to bid on one horse. It’s kind of a testament to our relationship and the trust that he has in me and that we’ve had for 20 years. I’m thrilled that we’ve both been rewarded for having a horse that’s been a lot of fun to have.”

Notes: Jockey Xavier Perez and trainer Jerry Robb swept both divisions of Sunday’s five-furlong waiver maiden claimers for 2-year-olds with Do It for Michael ($11.40) in Race 3 and All The Hardways ($3) in Race 5 … No Guts No Glory Farm’s Do It for Michael, a homebred son of Uncle Lino, won in 1:00.67 while Hard Ten Stables’ All The Hardways, by Paynter, crossed the wire in :59.86 … Laurel’s summer meet resumes Friday, July 5 with a nine-race program and carryovers of $3,648.26 in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 (Races 4-9) and $1,036.50 in the $1 Jackpot Super High Five (Race 6) wagers. Post time is 12:25 p.m.