Witty Takes Inside Route in $100,000 Turf Sprint Repeat

Witty Takes Inside Route in $100,000 Turf Sprint Repeat

Wicked Prankster Defends Title in $125,000 Turf
Precious Avary Goes the Distance in $125,000 Ladies

LAUREL, MD – Patiently ridden by jockey Jevian Toledo, Witty came rolling through an opening along the rail in mid-stretch and powered to a popular 1 ¼-length victory in the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint Saturday at Laurel Park.

The 5 ½-furlong Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up was the last of three grass stakes on the 38th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program of eight stakes and four starter stakes for ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Also on the grass were the $125,000 Turf for 3-year-olds and up and $125,000 Ladies for fillies and mares 3 and older, both at 1 1/8 miles. Serving as the headliner was the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up going nine furlongs on the main track.

Witty ($3.40) gave Elizabeth Merryman her first Maryland Million victory as a breeder and owner; she also trains the 4-year-old half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Caravel. It was the second win of the day for Toledo, following the Maryland Million Starter Handicap with Disputed Claim.

Favored at 3-5 in a full field of 14, Witty also helped sire Great Notion extend his streak to having at least one Maryland Million winner to 14 consecutive years.

Breaking from Post 5, Witty raced in last around the first turn as 60-1 long shot Odinson showed the way with an opening quarter-mile of 22.54 seconds pressed by 2021 Turf Sprint winner Grateful Bred midway into the far turn. As the top two duked it out up front, Toledo pounced on his opportunity when Tidewater came off the rail to sail through the opening and close with a flourish to win in 1:02.64 over a firm Exceller turf course.

Tidewater got up for second, emerging from a three-way photo a neck ahead of Next Episode, who closed stoutly on the far outside to edge 80-1 long shot R B’s the Boss by a neck. They were followed by Grateful Bred, Cynergy’s Star, Tenax, Odinson, defending Turf Sprint champion Sky’s Not Falling, Commanding General, Prince Pere and Next Episode.

Witty, out of the Congrats mare Zeezee Zoomzoom, earned his second straight turf stakes victory following his neck triumph over Sky’s Not Falling in the five-furlong Ben’s Cat Sept. 16 at historic Pimlico Race Course. He was a dirt stakes winner at both 2 and 3, including the 2022 Spectacular Bid at Laurel.

“He’s a big horse. I had to steady him after the break as the other horses came over,” Toledo said. “I followed [Cynergy’s Star] around the turn and then the inside opened up. He responded well when I asked him to go.”

Wicked Prankster Defends Title in $125,000 Turf

Wicked Prankster, owned and trained by Laurel Park-based Sam Davis, became the first repeat winner of the $125,000 Maryland Million Turf in seven years with a gate-to-wire three-quarter-length triumph over late-running Starstruck Notion Saturday.

Bred in Maryland by Country Life Farm and Broken Trust Fund, Wicked Prankster ($7.60) joined Winsox (1997-98), Pocket Patch (2010-11), Roadhog (2012-13) and Phlash Phelps (2015-16) as back-to-back Turf winners. Other horses with multiple Turf victories are La Reine’s Terms (2002, 2005) and Talk Show Man (2014, 2018).

The typically front-running Wicked Prankster was on the lead out of the gate under jockey Yomar Ortiz, setting splits of 23.75 seconds, 47.38 and 1:11.35 with 2-1 favorite Crabs N Beer and 12-1 long shot Tappin Cat – a multiple stakes winner on dirt – giving closest chase. Wicked Prankster remained brave up front and was able to hold off late bids from Starstruck Notion and Jack’s Legend, separated by a neck, to win in 1:48.28, more than second faster than his time from last fall (1:49.44). Tappin Cat was fourth, another three-quarters of a length back.

Crabs N Beer, Cannon’s Roar, Fletcher, Johng, 2022 Turf runner-up Street Copper and Lacco Ameno completed the order of finish. Maryland-bred also-eligible The Addison Pour was scratched.

“He ran the same race as last year when he went to the lead,” Ortiz said. “Sam told me to break good and get to the front, take it easy and relax. He said to go about 24, 49 [seconds] if possible. I had a lot of horse left at the quarter pole. Turning for home, I knew I had it.”

Wicked Prankster, a gelded 5-year-old son of Mosler, had gone winless with two thirds in five starts since last year’s Turf victory. He was pulled up after two furlongs in the Aug. 19 Find at Laurel, his most recent start, but had posted successive bullet workouts at Laurel for his return.

Precious Avary Goes the Distance in $125,000 Ladies

Smith Farm & Stable’s Precious Avary, racing for just the third time on grass and first beyond a mile on any surface, got out to an easy lead and had enough left to hold off a late charge from Naval Empire to kick off the Maryland Million stakes action with a front-running three-quarter-length triumph in the $125,000 Ladies.

Ridden by Silvestre Gonzalez for Parx-based trainer Tim Shaw, Precious Avary ($8.60) completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.53 over a firm Exceller turf course. It was the second stakes win for the 3-year-old daughter of 2015 Preakness (G1) third-place finisher Divining Rod, following a gate-to-wire triumph in the one-mile Jersey Girl Handicap July 8 at Monmouth Park.

Gonzalez immediately put Precious Avary on the lead from her rail post and she was unpressured through a quarter-mile in 24.78 seconds tracked by Golden Heart and Naval Empire on the inside, while defending Ladies champion Coconut Cake ranged up into third on the outside after the half went in 50.58.

Precious Avary continued to lead into the stretch as Naval Empire inched closer along the rail but was unable to get past the determined winner, who encountered trouble finishing seventh in last year’s Maryland Million Lassie on the dirt. She has now won all three of her grass starts, dating back to a maiden triumph last fall at The Meadowlands.

“I knew if she ran similar on the lead at Monmouth she would be tough today,” Gonzalez said. “She broke sharp with her ears perked and was happy. I was thinking she’d sit second as there might be speed from the outside, but she went on. Around the turn I asked her for run and she went about her business.”

Naval Empire, fifth by three lengths eight days earlier in a restricted allowance at Laurel after being fractious in the gate, was a clear second, 3 ½ lengths ahead of Golden Heart. It was 1 ¾ lengths back to Amplio Esquema in fourth, followed by Proper Storm, Beautiful Gorgeous, 5-2 favorite Downtown Katie and Coconut Cake.

It was the first Maryland Million win for both Gonzalez and Shaw. Owner Tim Smith said the connections are hoping to find another turf race before the end of the year and will take a look at the one-mile Pebbles (G3) Nov. 11 at Aqueduct.