Shaft’s Bullet Fires Big in $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson

Shaft’s Bullet Fires Big in $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson

Take a Hint Changes Tactics to Win $75,000 Not For Love
Too Many Kisses Up in Time to Capture $75,000 Conniver

LAUREL, MD – Paul Fowler Jr.’s Shaft’s Bullet, unhurried in the early going, made a bold move on the far turn under jockey Carlos Lopez and opened up once straightened for home to register a four-length triumph over a trio of seasoned stakes winners in Saturday’s $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park.

The one-mile Johnson for 4-year-olds was the last of three stakes worth $250,000 in purses, following a pair of $75,000 events restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses – the six-furlong Not For Love for 4-year-olds and up and seven-furlong Conniver for fillies and mares 4 and older.

It was the second stakes win of the day for trainer Gary Capuano, who also captured the Not For Love with Take a Hint. Shaft’s Bullet ($7.20) crossed the wire in 1:37.14 over a fast main track to win for the fifth time with two seconds and a third in nine career starts, all at Laurel.

Three horses – Grade 3 winner Magic Michael, 2023 Lite the Fuse winner Dollarization and Adero – were scratched, reducing the field to four led by multiple stakes winners Nimitz Class, the 3-5 favorite; Grade 2 winner and Maryland’s 2023 champion older male Double Crown; and It’s Sizzling Time, winner of the Feb. 17 John B. Campbell at Laurel last time out.

“[It became a] rider’s race then. Small field, that’s usually the case,” Fowler said. “That’s what we told Carlos, too. It turned out right.”

Nimitz Class, a four-time stakes winner at Laurel including last year’s Harrison Johnson racing for the third time after being privately purchased last fall, took the early initiative and went a quarter-mile in 24.67 seconds tracked by Double Crown to his outside while Shaft’s Bullet settled in the clear in third.

The half went in 47.98 when Lopez gave Shaft’s Bullet his cue, and the 5-year-old gelding by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft responded to move within even terms of the top two midway around the turn. Lopez shook the reins at the top of the stretch and Shaft’s Bullet pulled clear of Nimitz Class as It’s Sizzling Time continued his rally from last on the far outside to get up for second, five lengths ahead of Double Crown.

Shaft’s Bullet did not race at 2 and won his lone start as a 3-year-old, a 1 1/6-mile maiden special weight in February 2022. He went unraced until the following January, returning with a open allowance win going one mile. He ended 2023 with a record of 2-2-1 from six starts, his lone off the board finish coming in his season finale Dec. 8.

In his 2024 debut, Shaft’s Bullet was a determined neck winner of a one-length optional claiming allowance Feb. 25, earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure, also with Lopez aboard.

The Harrison E. Johnson honors the Bowie-based trainer who died at age 45 in the crash of a plane he was piloting from Saratoga to Virginia. A native of Adelphi, Md., his best horse was 1973 Hopeful (G1) winner Gusty O’Shay, named that year’s Maryland-bred 2-year-old champion.

Take a Hint Changes Tactics to Win $75,000 Not For Love

57 Strong’s Take a Hint, beaten as the favorite after setting the pace in his previous start, switched tactics and came from off the lead to run down Arden’sluckytobe and capture his stakes debut by 1 ¼ lengths in Saturday’s $75,000 Not For Love.

Ridden by Jaime Rodriguez for trainer Gary Capuano, Take a Hint ($6.20) earned his third win from four starts this year after front-running victories in January and February. The winning time was 1:10.72 over a fast main track.

“First stakes try for me, it’s unbelievable. I don’t have any words,” John Hazard of 57 Strong said. “He’s got a lot of heart.”

Take a Hint settled in third as Arden’sluckytobe outran 7-5 favorite Rominski, riding a three-race win streak into his stakes debut, and led the way though a quarter-mile in 22.18 seconds. Take a Hint moved into second after a half in 44.97 and rounded the far turn with sights on the leader, reeling in Arden’sluckytobe in mid-stretch and drawing clear.

It was 1 ¼ lengths back to late-running multiple stakes winner Coffeewithchris in third, followed by Rominski, Kenny Had a Notion and Exculpatory. Ace Nine Nine was scratched.

Take a Hint, a gelded 4-year-old son of Grade 3 winner Bandbox, was purchased for $22,000 during Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling sale at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. He has been third or better in all 14 career starts, with five wins and six seconds.

A son of Mr. Prospector, the late Not For Love was named Maryland’s champion stallion a record 13 times and was the first stallion in Maryland history to surpass $6 million in progeny earnings in a single year (2008). As a broodmare sire, he is represented by two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome. He died at age 26 in 2016.

Too Many Kisses Up in Time to Capture $75,000 Conniver

Under a perfectly timed ride from jockey Forest Boyce, Cynthia McGuinnes and Francis Clemens’ Too Many Kisses caught front-running Royal Whisper approaching the wire and surged past for a 1 ¼-length victory in the $75,000 Conniver.

A 4-year-old daughter of 2023 Hall of Famer Arrogate that is a younger half-sister to Grade 2 winner Still Having Fun, also trained by Tim Keefe, Too Many Kisses ($11.60) completed seven furlongs in 1:25.76 over a fast main track to win her second straight race in her first try against stakes company.

McGuinnes and her husband, Charles, bred Too Many Kisses with Keefe. The McGuinnes’ also bred $75,000 Not For Love winner Take a Hint.

“They sure know how to breed a horse,” Keefe said. “We’ve always felt like [Too Many Kisses] was a nice filly. After Still Having Fun did so well, the decision was made to step it up a little bit and they bred to Arrogate. I haven’t had a lot of experience with the Arrogates, but in watching how a lot of them have been running over the last couple years, they just seem to get better as the get older and older.

“I’m very fortunate to have Charlie and Cynthia and Fran just be patient and let this filly finally develop,” he added. “She was a little backwards early and it’s taken a little while to get her here. I think she’ll even be better as soon as we start stretching her out.”

Golden Tabby, favored at 4-5, broke on top but had settled into third as Royal Whisper went the opening quarter-mile in 23.13 seconds chased to her inside by Bay Street. The top two went unchanged after a half in 46.04, opening up on the rest of the field, and Royal Whisper remained in command leaving the far turn having put away Bay Street.

Meanwhile Boyce weaved her way through traffic after trailing in the early stages, surged inside Bay Street in deep stretch and set her sights on Royal Whisper before cruising past with a late surge. Royal Whisper held second, two lengths ahead of Bay Street, who was a nose in front of 35-1 long shot Bella Bettina. My Flicker, Sultry Sally H, Fast Tracked and Golden Tabby completed the order of finish.

Too Many Kisses went unraced at 2 and ran five times last year, graduating in her fourth start and running second by less than length to subsequent stakes winner Charming Way in her 3-year-old finale. She returned after nearly four months to win a restricted allowance by a half-length over Bay Street Feb. 17 at Laurel.

Named the top handicap mare of 1948 following a season that included wins in the Beldame, Comely, Vagrancy and Brooklyn handicaps, the latter over Hall of Famers Gallorette and Stymie, Conniver was bred in Maryland by Alfred G. Vanderbilt. She retired in 1949 after 15 wins from 56 starts.