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The 15th running of the Gin Talking for 2-year-old fillies and 22nd edition of the $100,000 Heft for 2-year-olds, both sprinting seven furlongs, share top billing on a nine-race program that wraps up Maryland’s 2023 stakes schedule.
First race post time is 12:25 p.m.
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DARRS, Inc.’s undefeated Cap Classique, an eye-catching winner of her stakes debut last month, returns to Laurel Park looking to keep her perfect record intact in the $100,000 Gin Talking Saturday, Dec. 30.
Cap Classique, a bay daughter of 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner and older male champion Vino Rosso, will be making her fourth start in the Gin Talking and second straight in a stakes following her come-from-behind 1 ¼-length triumph in the six-furlong Smart Halo Nov. 11 at Laurel.
Purchased for $145,000 during Fasig-Tipton’s May Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Cap Classique captured her Aug. 17 unveiling sprinting 5 ½ furlongs on the Colonial Downs turf. Back home at Laurel, she made the successful transition to dirt with a seven-length optional claiming allowance romp at the same distance Oct. 7.
Continuing with the gradual step-up in distance, Cap Classique will be trying seven furlongs for the first time in the Gin Talking.
“I think she’s going to handle it just fine. I think she’s going to love it,” trainer Brittany Russell said. “I think she handles everything we throw her way. She’s just one of those smart, laid-back types that has a lot of ability, and she does what we ask her to do. Everything about her is just a pleasure.”
Cap Classique drew Post 4 in a field of 7 and will have regular rider Jevian Toledo aboard.
“In the mornings she doesn’t put forth any extra energy,” Russell said. “She’s smart like that. She does that in the races, but she’s there for you when you need her.”
Cash is King and LC Racing’s Carmelina is a three-time winner from five starts for Parx-based trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr., including stakes victories in each of her last two tries on dirt. In between, she finished seventh after setting the pace into the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile Selima Sept. 30 on the Laurel turf. Most recently, she went gate to wire to win by 8 ¾ lengths in the six-furlong Shamrock Rose Nov. 22 at Penn National.
Also exiting a decisive front-running score is Magic Cap Stables and Hayden Racing’s Munny Grab. The chestnut Munnings filly led every step of the way and pulled clear late to beat Scarlet’s Dream and graduate in a one-mile maiden special weight against fellow New York-breds Nov. 16 at Aqueduct, her third start.
She’s trained really good. It’s worth giving it a shot. If she could get some black type, the owners would probably be delighted,” trainer Horacio DePaz said. “The races she’s been running in have been very productive.”
Munny Grab was a distant fourth in her Sept. 1 debut at Saratoga going six furlongs and ran second to the runner-up in that race next out, Dolomite, sprinting seven furlongs Oct. 22. Dolomite would come back and run third in the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle Dec. 2 at Aqueduct.
“She ran into Dolomite in her second start, and I really liked her that day,” DePaz said. “I thought the race at Saratoga, the distance was going to be too short for her and she didn’t run bad. She just kind of ran even around there. And then we went seven against Dolomite and obviously that’s a really nice filly. She’s got very nice form to her. We came back in the mile and she showed the move forward again and liked the distance, and the filly that ran second to her gave us some good competition. At the head of the stretch they hooked up and she was able to draw away from her, and that filly came back to win her next start.”
Munny Grab tuned up for her stakes debut breezing a half-mile in 49.88 seconds Dec. 16 in company with Grade 2-placed 3-year-old filly Stonewall Star, never worse than third in nine starts with four wins. Third in the 2022 Gin Talking, Stonewall Star owns three stakes wins including the Feb. 18 Wide Country at Laurel.
“She’s healthy and doing fine so we’ll give this a shot to kind of get more of an idea of where she’s going to fit,” DePaz said. “She breezed last time with Stonewall Star, who is a pretty hard knocker. We had to test her because she’s going to come into open company and looks like there’s some decent fillies in there.”
Kissedbyanangel, popular winner of the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Filly Dec. 3 at Laurel for owner-trainer Joanne Shankle; two-time winner Roanan Goddess, sixth in the Smart Halo; Shine On Moon and maiden Go Sherry Go complete the field.
Gin Talking was named Maryland’s 2-year-old filly champion in 1999 after a perfect 4-0 season that included three stakes wins. She won three more stakes in 2000 including the Anne Arundel (G3) to earn both champion 3-year-old filly and Horse of the Year honors. She was retired after two starts in 2001 to become a broodmare; her first foal, Dixie Talking, won the 2005 Cicada (G3) and was the dam of 2013 Illinois Derby (G3) winner Done Talking.
Stakes winners Sweet Soddy J and Catahoula Moon and impressive debut winner Great Opportunity are among eight 2-year-olds that will line up in a wide-open edition of the $100,000 Heft.
Built Wright Stables’ homebred Sweet Soddy J, by 2018 Met Mile (G1) winner Bee Jersey, is looking to regain his winning form after capturing each of his first two starts this summer including the 6 ½-furlong Timonium Juvenile Sept. 2.
Sweet Soddy J will be making his eighth start and seventh straight in a stakes, most recently tiring to be last in the 5 ½-furlong Advent Dec. 8 at Oaklawn Park. The Heft will be the first time racing twice at the same track, after stops in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and Arkansas.
“I don’t know what happened. He might have just been plain outclassed there at Oaklawn. He’s a really nice horse and I think I need to leave him in the Mid-Atlantic,” owner Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash said. “It’s almost a curse when we won that stake early on because a non-winners of three allowance is still hard to find for him, so we have to run in stakes. I guess the stakes where he fits are not so plentiful, so I supplemented those with places where he hasn’t fit.”
Sweet Soddy J has raced over the all-weather surface at Presque Isle Downs, running third in the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile, and tried graded company when eighth after pressing the pace in the one-mile Champagne (G1) in the slop at Aqueduct.
“I’m not completely sure he doesn’t want to go long. I know it looks like he doesn’t, when he ran in the Champagne, but we were up [near the lead] in a Grade 1 the first time he went long and that’s just ludicrous,” Cash said. “I’m hoping with the seven furlongs he likes it, he can rate a little bit and come on and run well.”
Jeiron Barbosa has the call from Post 3 of eight on Sweet Soddy J, who forged a short lead at the top of the stretch in the six-furlong James F. Lewis III Nov. 11 at Laurel before winding up fourth to multiple stakes winner Copper Tax, beaten 2 ¼ lengths.
“He ran a big race [at Laurel] the last time. He hit the front, but he wouldn’t change leads. If he changes leads, we probably win that stake,” Cash said. “But the stake he won at Timonium he didn’t change leads, either, so we’ve been working with him on that trying to make sure with the rider every time he comes off the corner that he changes leads. Hopefully we get him to change leads as he comes down the lane in this stake. He had a big number and we were only a couple lengths off of it. I know it was a fourth, but it was a still a nice race for him.”
Super C Racing, Inc.’s Catahoula Moon broke his maiden going 6 ½ furlongs Sept. 4 at Timonium and came back two starts later to post a mild upset in the six-furlong Maryland Million Nursery Oct. 14 at Laurel. He has raced twice since, finishing fifth in the Lewis and second to Circle P after being run down late in the Maryland Juvenile. Trainer Flint Stites was aiming to the Heft with Circle P but will instead look to 2024 after the gelding suffered a minor setback.
Repole Stable’s Great Opportunity was always in command in his Dec. 3 unveiling at Laurel, a one-mile maiden special weight where he broke sharp from his inside post and led all the way in a 7 ¼-length triumph over a sloppy, sealed track for trainer Brittany Russell.
“He won going a mile first time out and it was a tough trip – from the rail, mud, mile first time – and I feel like he overcame a lot. He ran fast early, and he even got tired. He was exhausted after that race, but he seemed to bounce back in his training. I think shortening him up to seven, he’ll be just fine,” Russell said. “I think he’s a good horse and I think he can handle it.”
Also entered are American War Hero, a debut winner Sept. 30 at Delaware Park for trainer Graham Motion; Deposition, a 4 ¼-length maiden winner last out going a mile and 70 yards Nov. 21 at Parx; Mister Agent, a six-furlong maiden claiming winner Nov. 16 at Laurel; Penn National debut winner Cool in Blue and first-time starter Davyjonz.
Having debuted as the Marylander in 1975, the Heft was renamed in 2016 to honor Maryland native and longtime horse owner Arnold Heft who campaigned such horses as millionaire Eighttofasttocatch, a three-time Maryland Million Classic winner, and fellow multiple stakes winners Red’s Round Table, Pulverizing and Baldski’s Choice. He passed away in 2014 at age 94.
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