Play Harder Promoted Winner of $75,000 Star de Naskra

Play Harder Promoted Winner of $75,000 Star de Naskra

Fifth Win in Six Starts for Maryland-Bred in 3-Year-Old Sprint

LAUREL, MD – Pride quickly turned to joy for Dan Eubanks of Rising Sun Racing Stables, Inc. after Play Harder, whose determined rally came up a nose short in his stakes debut, was promoted to victory in Saturday’s $75,000 Star de Naskra at Laurel Park.

The 31st running of the seven-furlong Star de Naskra for Maryland-bred/sired 3-year-olds, named for the 1979 champion sprinter bred in Maryland by owner Carlyle Lancaster, was the second of 16 stakes worth $1.5 million in purses during the 36-day summer meet.

Play Harder ($15) had his win streak extended to three races following the disqualification of Celtic Contender, who crossed the wire first but was placed third behind Quint’s Brew. The stewards’ decision was made following an inquiry and objection from jockey Raul Mena for interference as the horses passed the chute onto the main portion of the main track shortly after the start.

“It feels great,” said Eubanks, whose previous stakes wins came with Colonel Sharp in the 2018 Maryland Coalition and Dave’s Friend, the latter at Laurel. “I would have liked to have gotten there on our own will, but [Celtic Contender] definitely did come over and caused some trouble, so they got it right in taking him down and us getting put up.”

Haileysfirstnotion, who like Quint’s Brew came into the Star de Naskra with a spotless 2-0 record, broke alertly and established the early lead with an opening quarter-mile of 22.95 seconds pressed by Quint’s Brew to his outside with Celtic Contender in the clear three wide. Jockey J.G. Torrealba and Play Harder raced between horses in fourth.

The half went in 45.56 as Celtic Contender swept to the lead on the outside, when Torrealba tipped Play Harder further out to launch their bid. Celtic Contender and jockey Victor Carrasco straightened for home in command and looked to edge away but Play Harder was set down for a stretch-long drive that was denied by a head bob.

“I was thinking it was a perfect trip. He was in a perfect spot. I saw the fractions and I knew that he would be grinding down the stretch like he always does,” Eubanks said. “Kudos to [Celtic Contender]. He held on very, very well.

“[Play Harder] was coming down the stretch, and he just missed,” he added. “He’s definitely a competitor. You can’t teach them heart. You can’t teach them grit. They either have it or they don’t, and he’s got it.”

Following Play Harder, Quint’s Brew and Celtic Contender in the revised order of finish were The Band Runs On, Circle P, Cap Com, Haileysfirstnotion and Blue Kingdom.

Play Harder had won four of his first five starts, beaten less than a length in his only loss, a 5 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance by 2023 Maryland-bred champion 2-year-old male Catahoula Moon April 7 at Laurel, when he was fractious at the gate and hopped at the start.

The sophomore son of 2016 Wood Memorial (G1) winner Outwork and grandson of champions Uncle Mo and Smarty Jones rebounded with back-to-back wins including a neck triumph over The Band Runs On in a one-mile optional claiming allowance June 1, his Star de Naskra prep.

“What encourages me is if it was a mile [today], we would have got there,” Eubanks said. “I was thinking my horse might be compromised going a little bit longer but he proved that I think the further he goes, the better. He won at a mile last time, but it was kind of a slow time.”

Eubanks, the son of longtime Maryland trainer Annette Eubanks, has a decision to make regarding Play Harder, who is entered in Fasig-Tipton’s July 8 Selected Horses of Racing Age auction in Lexington, Ky.

“I was looking and there’s a 3-year-old stakes going seven furlongs at the end of July,” Eubanks said of Laurel’s $100,000 Concern July 28. “It’s not for Maryland-breds, but he deserves a shot in that. I’ve still got to figure out what I’m going to do about the sale. This is nice. This is a good feeling.”

Star de Naskra had a record of 15-10-4 and purse earnings of more than $587,000 in 36 starts from 1977-79. Eight of his wins came in stakes including the Whitney (G2), Cornhusker (G2) and Carter (G2) during his championship season. He also placed in six other graded-stakes led by the 1977 Laurel Futurity (G1).

Notes: Summer meet leading jockey Jaime Rodriguez doubled Saturday aboard Shell Belle ($4.80) in Race 4 and Bourbon N Lace ($13.80) in Race 6 … J.G. Torrealba rode back-to-back winners with John the Bear ($30.80) in Race 7 and Play Harder ($15) in the $75,000 Star de Naskra … Bourbon N Lace, by back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Goldencents, was racing for the second time in the five-furlong waiver maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies, winning in 1:00.14 … Cinder Block ($4.20), a sophomore son of multiple Grade 1 winner Blame ridden by Jorge Ruiz for trainer Graham Motion, led every step of the way and edged clear late for a 5 ¾-length victory in Race 3, a maiden special weight for horses ages 3, 4 and 5, his third career start. The winning time was 1:40.70, just .48 off Laurel’s track record of 1:40.22 for 1 1/16 miles over the Dahlia turf course set by 4-year-old Boundary Pass June 2, 2019 … John the Bear held off an inside run from 2023 Challedon winner Swill, the 4-5 favorite, to spring a 14-1 upset of the second-level optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up, in 1:11.57 for six furlongs … There will be carryovers of $10,521.55 in the 50-cent Late Pick 5 (Races 4-8) and $2,587.84 in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 (Races 3-8) Sunday. First race post time is 12:25 p.m.