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Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes 2024 | Laurel Park Picks
Magic Michael (Bill Denver/Equi-Photo)

Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes 2024 | Laurel Park Picks

Double Crown, recently named Maryland’s champion older male of 2023, and fellow graded-stakes winner Magic Michael top a competitive field of seven including three other stakes winners in Saturday’s $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park.

Post time for the first of 10 races is 12:25 p.m.

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Built Wright Stables’ Double Crown, 42-1 winner of the 2022 Kelso (G2) going one mile at Aqueduct, ran 18 times last year with three wins including the Polynesian at Pimlico and Laurel’s Robert T. Manfuso in December, a race where Magic Michael was 2 ½ lengths back in third. The 7-year-old gelding is nearing $900,000 in career purse earnings.

In his most recent race, Double Crown ran fifth in the one-mile Stymie March 2 at Aqueduct, contested over a sloppy track. Three of his last five races have come over off tracks, including starts at Laurel and Oaklawn Park, beaten a total of 52 ¼ lengths.

“He came back [ticked] off. He’s been tearing the stall down. I don’t think he likes a wet track,” owner Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash said. “He hasn’t run well most of the time on wet tracks. I think he kind of feels like he got cheated because he didn’t get his run out.”

In his prior start, Double Crown took a 1 ½-length lead into the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile John B. Campbell Feb. 17 at Laurel, but was surprised by an inside run from It’s Sizzling Time and wound up second, beaten a nose. It was five lengths back to stakes winner Be Better in third.

“In that particular race, [jockey Jeiron] Barbosa he came around the outside down the middle of the lane and the winner came up the inside and [Double Crown] couldn’t get there,” Cash said. “We were beat by more 20 feet back, but he was coming back when he finally saw the other horse.”

Morris Kernan Jr., Yo Berbs and Jagger Inc.’s Magic Michael earned his graded credentials in the 1 ½-mile Greenwood Cup (G3) in 2021 at Parx, running second in his title defense the following year.

The 7-year-old gelding went nearly 12 months between starts before returning last fall at Pimlico and he has hit the board in five of his last six races with back-to-back optional claiming allowance wins last fall at Laurel, where he has never been worse than third in six tries (2-2-2).

“He’s a big horse and the big, sweeping turns and the long stretch at Laurel is conducive to a big, one-paced horse like him. Little tight turns and short stretches aren’t good for a horse like him. The track configuration helps him. It suits his running style,” trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness said. “He had a couple small injuries and we gave him the time. He always comes back from them. We’ve run him a lot and we expect another big effort Saturday.”

Magic Michael has finished in the top three 24 times with 12 wins and $551,683 in purse earnings from 37 career starts. Last out he finished second, beaten a neck, in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Feb. 25 at Laurel.

“Ran well, tough beat. It was nothing but that he got outrun and came up a neck short, but he ran a good race,” Ness said. “I’ve had the horse a long time. He’s won a graded-stakes for me and some other stakes. He’s been a nice, solid horse and always brings his game.”

Qatar Racing, Black Type Thoroughbreds, Swinbank Stables, Steve Adiksson and Campeche Stables’ Nimitz Class is a six-time stakes winner with four of them coming in succession over the winter of 2022-23 at Laurel including last year’s Harrison Johnson by 6 ¼ lengths over Double Crown.

He is 0-for-2 since being purchased privately following a victory in the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile last fall at Parx, most recently fourth in the seven-furlong General George (G3) Feb. 17 at Laurel.

Chuckie, Inc. and Mona Bowley’s It’s Sizzling Time has put together two straight wins capped by the John B. Campbell, trainer Valrie Smith’s first career stakes triumph.

James Wolf’s Dollarization was a three-length winner of the six-furlong Lite the Fuse last fall at Pimlico and has been second in each of his last two races including the Dec. 23 Dave’s Friend behind Grade 3 winner Greeley and Ben.

Shaft’s Bullet, who beat Magic Michael last out, and five-time winner Adero complete the field.

“It looks wide open. If you’re playing a Pick Five you might want to hit the all button,” Ness said. “I think you can make a case for anyone in there. Everybody’s got a good shot.”

The one-mile Johnson for 4-year-olds and up is supported by a pair of $75,000 stakes for 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.