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Daryl Abramowitz’s Grade 3 winning-sprinter Greeley and Ben, still going strong at the age of 9, chases a second straight victory and 25th overall against 11 rivals in Saturday’s $100,000 Dave’s Friend at Laurel Park.
The six-furlong Dave’s Friend for 3-year-olds and up is the second of four $100,000 stakes on the final pre-Christmas program at Laurel, preceded by the 6 ½-furlong Willa On the Move and followed by the 1 1/8-mile Carousel, both for fillies and mares 3 and older, and 1 1/16-mile Robert T. Manfuso for 3-year-olds and up.
Post time for the first of nine races is 12:25 p.m.
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Greeley and Ben won stakes at Remington Park, Delta Downs, Sam Houston and was third in Oaklawn Park’s Whitmore (G3) in 2021-22 before breaking through with his first graded triumph in the six-furlong Fall Highweight (G3) last November at Aqueduct.
It took nearly a year and a switch to trainer Horacio DePaz before Greeley and Ben ran again, finishing sixth in a 5 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance on a muddy Laurel track Nov. 10. He came back Dec. 2 to run down Johnyz From Albany and win a similar spot by a nose sprinting six furlongs.
Laurel is one of 15 venues where Greeley and Ben has raced since his October 2016 debut, in Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Texas
“He’s doing good. He’s an old, hard-knocking war horse. Just a very cool horse,” DePaz said. “He’s had quite the career and basically run at every racetrack. He came back in good form. We figured that first race he was going to need it and I was encouraged by the way he ran. Going into the next one it looked like he got a lot more fitness out of it and he showed up. It was good to see.”
Claimed three times over the years, most recently for $40,000 last September out of a front-running win at Saratoga, Greeley and Ben joined DePaz over the summer. The gelded son of Greeley’s Conquest is 24-for-41 overall with $921,138 in purse earnings.
“With his back class you always hope that horses can come back and continue on, especially after winning the Fall Highweight last year. As trainers, we’re always optimistic that we’re going to be able to get back to that form,” DePaz said. “When we first started bringing him back we didn’t know what kind of form he’d come back in, but it was good to be able to get in those two races and, date-wise, it was good this one came up.”
Greeley and Ben drew Post 10 of 12 and will be ridden by Jevian Toledo, up for both his races this year.
“The owner gave him some time off and let him do some R and R and brought him back slowly. It worked out to be a decent claim,” DePaz said. “He’s a really cool horse [with a] really good personality to him.”
Just to the outside of Greeley and Ben is Michael Scheffres’ Factor It In, the defending Dave’s Friend champion that beat Greeley and Ben in his comeback race last month. The 7-year-old Factor It In is 3-for-6 this year including a win in the 6 ½-furlong Fire Plug Jan. 21 as well as his last-out triumph.
James Wolf’s Dollarization has run fourth in back-to-back starts at Parx and Laurel after capturing historic Pimlico Race Course’s six-furlong Lite the Fuse Sept. 16. Isabelle de Tomaso and Hope Jones’ No Cents won a pair of 2-year-old stakes at Laurel in 2020 but has won just one of 10 starts since, finishing third in his most recent effort Sept. 30 behind Sir Alfred James, who also returns in the Dave’s Friend along with Built Wright Stables’ stablemate Cowan.
Completing the field are 2022 Phoenix (G2) winner Manny Wah; multiple stakes winners Stage Left and Threes Over Deuces; He’smyhoneybadger, Mystic O’Shaunesie and Nico.
The Willa On the Move drew a field of six led by Grade 3-placed Moody Woman and fellow stakes winner Apple Picker. Robert James McGee’s 4-year-old Moody Woman, third by two lengths at odds of 59-1 in the Feb. 18 Barbara Fritchie (G3) at Laurel, had placed in four other stakes before breaking through in the six-furlong Mahoning Valley Distaff Nov. 20 for Laurel-based trainer Marilyn McMullen.
Breaking from outermost Post 6 is Michael Dubb’s Apple Picker, one of three 3-year-old fillies in the Willa On the Move who earned her stakes credentials with a 4 ½-length triumph in the six-furlong Weather Vane Sept. 16 at Pimlico. She ran a troubled fourth, beaten a half-length for third, in the Raven Run (G2) Oct. 21 at Keeneland, and came back to run second by a length to favored Howl in Laurel’s Nov. 25 Safely Kept. Each of her last two races have come at seven furlongs.
“I thought she ran a really big race last time. I was really proud of that effort,” trainer Brittany Russell said. “Great post for her style of running. She’s done really well. She’s been noting but consistent. The 6 ½ [furlongs], I think she’ll like it. She’s doing great and, looking at the race, she fits right in there. I think she’ll be tough.”
Rounding out the field are Gary Barber sophomore homebred Dream Chaser, riding a two-race win streak; I’m Gittin There, third or better in 14 of 21 Laurel starts; Worst Behaviour, fourth in the Safely Kept; and Headland, 10-for-43 lifetime and cross-entered in Saturday’s Sugar Swirl (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
A pair of hard-hitting 6-year-old geldings that have combined for 20 wins and more than $1.3 million in purse earnings, graded-stakes winners Magic Michael and Double Crown, will meet for the first time bookending a group of eight in the Manfuso.
Morris Kernan, Yo Berbs and Jagger Inc.’s Magic Michael drew outermost Post 8 as he looks to extend his win streak to three following back-to-back optional claiming allowance triumphs at Laurel going one and 1 1/16 miles, the latter Dec. 8. Winner of the 2021 Greenwood Cup (G3) at Parx, he ran second in defense of his title last fall and went unraced for nearly a year before finishing fifth in his Sept. 15 return at Pimlico and second Oct. 26 at Laurel.
“He got an injury last year and we gave him time off. We brought him back this year for the summer campaign and he had another nagging injury. He ended up being off almost a whole year before we got him back to the races,” trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness said. “For an older horse [and] a big, heavy horse, it takes a little time to get them back into peak fitness. I think that’s what it was. It just took a little time. The logical next step is to run in these winter stakes. Hopefully he can compete. He’s getting a little long in the tooth and we don’t really know if he’s still stakes quality or high-level allowance quality, so we’re going to find out on Saturday.”
Built Wright Stables’ Double Crown, 42-1 upset winner of the 2022 Kelso (G2), drew the rail and wheels back just seven days after finishing last of six in the 1 1/8-mile Tinsel at Oaklawn Park. An eight-time winner of nearly $780,000 in purses, he has placed in his last two local stakes attempts, running third in the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 14 and second in the seven-furlong Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial Nov. 24, both at Laurel.
Be Better, winner of Laurel’s Deputed Testamony July 29; Offaly Kool, who beat Be Better in winning the MP Ballezzi Appreciation Mile Oct. 17 at Parx; multiple stakes winner Forewarned, second in the 1 1/8-mile Richard Small Nov. 25 at Laurel; promoted Maryland Million Classic winner Ain’t Da Beer Cold; Luigi’s Spirit and Kinetic Sky are also entered.
Stablemates Hybrid Eclipse, a multiple stakes winner, and Saddle Up Jessie, making her stakes debut, give Russell a strong hand in the Carousel. Michael Ryan’s Saddle Up Jessie began her career in California before being claimed for $20,000 in January and sent east. The 4-year-old daughter of More Than Ready has won three of five starts for Russell including a two-length triumph going 1 1/16 miles Nov. 4 at Laurel in her most recent.
“She was in great shape when she showed up but I think she has sort of thrived since she came in. Sometimes these fillies, all they need to do is win to pick their heads up,” Russell said. “It’s a short field. Mile and an eighth is a question mark, but she ran a big race [last time] and I think she’s on the improve so you’d like to see it keep going in a spot like this.”
Saddle Up Jessie will break from the rail, right next to The Elkstone Group’s Hybrid Eclipse, who exits a 5 ¼-length score in the 1 1/16-mile Thirty Eight Go Go Nov. 11 at Laurel. It was the fifth stakes win over the track for the 5-year-old Paynter mare, who also ran third to champion Nest in last fall’s Beldame (G2) at Aqueduct.
“She’s awesome. She loves being home,” Russell said. “She ran a big race last time. Hybrid, she’ll give us a really big race and then she’ll run an OK race and then she comes back and runs a really big race. It’s sort of how it cycles with her. She’s doing great. I certainly hope this doesn’t cycle to be just an average effort. She looks like she’ll be very effective here.”
The rest of the field is comprised by Warrior’s Ransom, third in each of her three prior stakes attempts including the seven-furlong Safely Kept Nov. 25 at Laurel; Lady Brew, exiting the 1 ¼-mile Maple Leaf (G3) on Woodbine’s all-weather surface Nov. 11; Peyton Elizabeth, racing first off the claim for trainer Ferris Allen III; and Circle Home.
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