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Witty Chasing Turf Stakes Win in $75,000 Ben’s Cat
First to Act Cutting Back to Sprint in $75,000 Shine Again
LAUREL, MD – Witty, a two-time dirt stakes winner bred, owned and trained by Elizabeth Merryman that has run second in three consecutive turf stakes, looks to make a breakthrough in Saturday’s $75,000 Ben’s Cat at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The sixth running of the Ben’s Cat, scheduled for five-furlongs on the grass, and 15th renewal of the $75,000 Shine Again for fillies and mares 3 and up which have not won an open sweepstakes sprinting six furlongs on the main track, are among six stakes worth $650,000 in purses on an 11-race program headlined by the $200,000 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G3).
Also scheduled for the grass is the $100,000 All Along for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles, joined by two other six-furlong dirt sprints – the $100,000 Lite the Fuse for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Weather Vane for 3-year-old fillies.
First race post time is 12:25 p.m.
A gelded 4-year-old son of Great Notion, Maryland’s leading sire for five consecutive years (2018-22), Witty began his career in the fall of 2021 with one win from two starts for Merryman before her son, McLane Hendriks, took over training. Witty rattled off victories in the 2021 Pennsylvania Nursery and 2022 Star de Naskra, the latter at Laurel Park, before getting four months off ahead of a seventh in the Penn Mile (G2), his grass debut.
Witty went back to the dirt for six more starts including a win in the 2022 Stanton at Delaware Park and a second in the Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park, both sprinting six furlongs, until the decision was made to give turf another try.
“He always handled the dirt really well but we decided we should maybe give him a crack at turf with his pedigree and everything. He did seem to improve numbers-wise on turf,” Merryman said. “I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between turf and dirt for him but he’s a great big horse and I was kind of hoping the turf would be a little easier on him and better for his longevity, so that’s one of the reasons for the swap.”
Out of the Congrats mare Zeezee Zoomzoom, Witty is a younger half-brother to 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Caravel, a $1.9 million earner also bred and formerly owned and trained by Merryman. Back on grass, Witty overcame a slow start to be second in the six-furlong Laurel Dash July 2, two lengths behind Fore Harp but 2 ½ ahead of favored Mid Day Image.
Following another belated start, Witty came within a half-length of winning the 5 ½-furlong Wolf Hill July 22 at Monmouth and then fell a head shy as the favorite in the five-furlong Marshall Jenney Handicap Aug. 21 at Parx in his most recent effort.
“He’s really run super lately. He hit a bad spot on the turf at Parx and it kind of took a few strides to get his footing back, and probably cost him the race. Plus, he gave the winner quite a few pounds,” Merryman said. “He goes out there every time and tries his hardest, and always rewards me with a big effort. He’s very honest. His only thing is he tends to break a little bit slow and come from off of it, so hopefully with the big field at Pimlico that’s going to work out going the five-eighths.”
Overall, Witty has finished first or second in 11 of 16 starts with four wins and $364,460 in purse earnings. Jockey Jevian Toledo gets the call from Post 7 in a field of 10.
“He’s just a tough, cool horse that can do anything you ask him to, so we figured we’d switch gears and let him try the turf a few times,” Merryman said. “Being a half to Caravel was a good enough reason in itself. She’s beaten the boys and is pretty spectacular. She’s been something else. His mother and all the siblings have much preferred turf. He’s in good form. With these kind of turf races, you just never know how the trip is going to work out.”
Trainer Michael Trombetta entered the pair of Matta and Sky’s Not Falling, both owned by R. Larry Johnson and R.D.M. Racing Stable. The 7-year-old Matta has placed in three previous turf sprint stakes and was fourth, beaten less than a length as the favorite in the 2021 Laurel Dash. He has two starts this year, returning from five months away to be fourth in a 5 ½-furlong sprint Aug. 17 on the Colonial Downs turf.
Sky’s Not Falling, 5, has made eight consecutive starts at 7 ½ furlongs or longer since his half-length triumph in last fall’s 5 ½-furlong Maryland Million Turf Sprint. The Seville gelding has placed in seven other stakes on grass and all-weather surfaces, finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Prince George’s County July 15 and most recently sixth, beaten 3 ¼ lengths, in the 1 1/16-mile Find Aug. 19, both at Laurel.
Mint Meadows Farm and Donald Metzger’s B Determined won the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Starter Handicap in 2021 but has done well in turf sprints with two wins, one second and one third in seven tries. The 6-year-old Artie Schiller gelding was third by a length, second by a nose and a 1 ¼-length winner in his last three attempts, the latter a 5 ½-furlong allowance July 15 at Laurel.
Boss Man J J, Commanding General, Golden G, Prince Pere, R B’s the Boss and Showtime Cat are also entered.
Bred, owned and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat won 32 of 63 career races, 26 stakes and more than $2.6 million in purses from 2010 to 2017. A four-time Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, Ben’s Cat died July 18, 2017 of complications from colic surgery.
First to Act Cutting Back to Sprint in $75,000 Shine Again
Andrew Rosen homebred First to Act, placed in back-to-back graded-stakes to cap her juvenile campaign, will make her Maryland debut in just her second start as a 3-year-old in the $75,000 Shine Again Saturday at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, First to Act remains in search of her first stakes victory. The 5-year-old daughter of two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Famer Curlin has raced at a mile or more in seven consecutive starts since running second in her March 2022 unveiling, a 7 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park.
“We’re just trying to start over again with her,” McGaughey said. “We’ve been running her long, and some of the Curlins look like they wanted to sprint a little bit, especially the ones that are out of speed mares. Her mother, First Passage, ran sprint races.”
First Passage, also owned by Rosen and trained by McGaughey, won five of 15 starts including the 2009 Snurb, Leave Me Alone and Azalea (G3) in successive starts at Calder. She also ran fourth that year in the Test (G1) at Saratoga and in 2010 won the U Can Do It Handicap, also at Calder.
Unraced at 2 and 3, First to Act hit the board in each of her first seven starts with two wins, four seconds including the Beldame (G2) behind 2022 champion 3-year-old filly Nest and the Summer Colony, and a third to Battle Bling in the Turnback the Alarm (G3), all going 1 1/8 miles. She went 261 days before racing again, finishing last of seven in the 1 1/16-mile Molly Pitcher (G3) July 22 at Monmouth Park.
“I don’t know what happened to her at Monmouth,” McGaughey said. “I thought she’d run good; she’d been training really well. She didn’t run up to what I thought, so we’ll see how she does at Pimlico on Saturday.”
Forest Boyce, McGaughey’s regular go-to rider in Maryland, has the call on First to Act from Post 5 in a field of 10.
“I think Forest will fit her very well, kind of let her get herself together and finish. We’ll just see what we’ve got,” he said. “I was going to run her in Saratoga and it didn’t work out, and then this race came up so we’ll take a good look at it and see what happens.”
No Guts No Glory Farm homebred Mama G’s Wish chases her ninth career win and second in a stakes following the six-furlong Lewes last summer at Delaware Park. She has won two straight for owner-trainer John Robb, most recently by a length going 6 ½ furlongs Aug. 27 at Timonium.
Robert James McGee’s Moody Woman has won two of eight starts this year, her latest victory coming at the distance in a 4 ¾-length open allowance romp June 2 at Pimlico. The 4-year-old filly has placed three times in stakes, including third by two lengths at odds of 59-1 in the Feb. 18 Barbara Fritchie (G3) at Laurel Park.
Nine-time career winner Self Isolation was entered by New York-based owner-trainer David Jacobson to run back just six days after finishing fourth as the favorite in an off-the-grass edition of Pimlico’s five-furlong Sensible Lady Turf Dash. Two of her three wins this year have come in Maryland in six-furlong sprints at Laurel.
Paul Fowler Jr.’s Maryland homebred Intrepid Daydream has run first or second in six of nine career starts, beaten a head last out in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance Sept. 1 at Colonial downs after running third by less than a length in the one-mile Caesar’s Wish July 15 at Laurel. The 4-year-old Jess’s Dream filly, a granddaughter of Curlin, ran second to Self Isolation in her season opener June 16.
Completing the field are Deco Strong, the 2022 Penn Ladies Dash winner that ran third in the Timonium Distaff Aug. 26; two-time Arizona-bred stakes winner Alberta Sun; multiple stakes-placed Sweet Gracie and Beneath the Stars; and Bourbon Wildcat, runner-up in the Jan. 21 Geisha at Laurel.
The Shine Again honors Allaire duPont’s fourth generation Maryland homebred mare that retired in 2003 after winning 14 of 34 starts, seven stakes and nearly $1.3 million in purses. Trained by late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, she won back-to-back editions of the Ballerina (G1) in 2001 and 2002 and was second in 2003.