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LAUREL, MD – Juveniles take center stage on the turf Saturday at Laurel Park with nine males entered in the Laurel Futurity and a matching number of fillies in the Selima, both 1 1/16-mile routes carrying $150,000 purses.
Joining them on the 10-race card are a trio of turf stakes with $100,000 purses: the All Along, the Laurel Dash, and the Japan Turf Cup. First post is 12:40 PM Eastern.
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Two years after using the race as a bridge to the Breeders’ Cup, trainer Graham Motion will send out maiden winner Sparkle Blue and maiden Luna Antonia for their first stakes engagements in the Selima.
Sharing was a second-time maiden winner when she became a popular 2 1/2-length winner of the Selima in 2019. The victory helped get her into the field for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, where she upset favored Daahyeh by 1 1/4 lengths at nearly 14/1 odds.
Sharing would go on to win 2 more stakes including the 2020 Edgewood (G3) and place in a pair of Grade 1 races before 2020’s Maryland-bred Horse of the Year was retired in January.
“It’s great timing for this race. I don’t know who’s coming from out of town, but Laurel is our local track, so we like to run there,” Motion said. “It just kind of fits in the schedule for these guys and it’s a great opportunity.”
Bred by Catherine Parke and co-owned by Parke and Augustin Stable, Sparkle Blue is a daughter of Hard Spun out of the Smart Strike mare Silk n’ Sapphire. Both her sire and grandsire are Grade 1 winners, and Hard Spun was second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and third in the Preakness (G1) in 2007.
“She’s well-connected,” Motion said. “I feel at this time of year, you have to take a shot.”
Sparkle Blue has made 1 start, a 1-mile maiden special weight August 17 at Colonial Downs that was rained off the turf. She did not mind the surface switch, rolling to a 3 3/4-length victory.
“Like her mom, she won on the dirt, which was a complete surprise to me,” Motion said. “(She was) another one that we took down to Colonial that came off the grass that day. I kind of felt obliged to run her, but she won nicely and I think she’s improved, actually, and done well since.”
Sparkle Blue has breezed 4 times at the nearby Fair Hill Training Center since her win, the last 3 being 5-furlong moves over its all-weather surface. Motion feels the move to turf will only serve to further improve her recent form.
“I can’t believe that’s not what she wants to do,” he said. “I had no intentions of running her on the dirt, and no one was more surprised than me, probably, when she won that day.”
Feargal Lynch is named to ride from post 1 in a field of nine.
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Herringswell Racing Club’s Luna Antonia ran third, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, following a rail trip in her September 9 unveiling at Laurel sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass. The Malibu Moon filly, purchased for $90,000 as a 2-year-old in training in March, returned to the work tab with a 5-furlong move over Fair Hill’s all-weather surface Monday.
“I think she’s done well,” Motion said. “I thought she ran quite respectably the first time and I like the idea of stretching her out. I’ve always thought quite a lot of her, so I just felt like rolling the dice in the stake.”
Charlie Marquez gets the riding assignment from post 4.
Also entered to make their stakes debut are Consumer Spending and Hedy Lamarr, respectively first and second separated by 4 1/2 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight September 6 over a yielding turf course at Saratoga. It was the second start for Klaravich Stables’ Consumer Spending, a $200,000 daughter of More Than Ready, and first for Holy Place and Madaket Stables’ Hedy Lamarr, by 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.
The Chad Brown trainees will break respectively from post 5 with Victor Carrasco and post 9 with Mychel Sanchez.
Mens Grille Racing’s Petition Prayer, trained by Laurel-based Hamilton Smith, takes a 2-race win streak into the Selima. She made her first 2 starts on dirt, closing to be fifth by 3 lengths in a July 2 waiver maiden claimer before graduating by a length after laying closer to the pace in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight 28 days later, both at historic Pimlico Race Course.
“First time out, she didn’t get away real clean and she laid back there and made a good run at them,” Smith said. “I ran her on the dirt and she won and I brought her back and she won again, so here we are.”
Petition Prayer came from mid-pack to sprint a mild upset in her most recent race and first on the turf, an open entry-level allowance going 5 1/2 furlongs September 16 on the turf at Colonial Downs, where Smith finished as the summer meet’s leading trainer.
“The last one she ran in, she was pretty impressive with the way she handled it and the way she ran,” he said. “That’s what made us think about the stake.”
Horacio Karamanos will get a leg up again on Petition Prayer from post 8.
Evangeline Allons, a Colonial maiden winner that ran fifth to Petition Prayer last out; Paynt by Number, winner of an off-the-turf maiden special weight going 1 mile and 70 yards August 23 at Delaware in her lone start; and maidens Determined Charm and She’s Like Thunder round out the field.
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There is serendipity in Lynn and Mark Ashby’s undefeated stakes winner being named Epic Luck. The 2-year-old gelding came along at a time when the trainer and co-breeder saw an entire division of her operation suddenly cease while her husband and co-owner has been battling cancer.
Epic Luck has proven to be a respite for the couple, bringing a 2-race win streak into Saturday’s $150,000 Laurel Futurity at Laurel Park. Though his stakes win came on the same surface and at the same distance in the August 31 Kitten’s Joy at Colonial Downs, the Futurity will be his biggest test yet.
“I was really emotional when he won. My husband has been real ill so he stayed home and watched it. It was our first one to breed,” Lynn Ashby said. “We’re kind of pinching ourselves. It’s really nice to have this going on with the negativity of Mark being sick. It’s something to look forward to with this horse. It’s very exciting.”
William Gotwals bred Epic Luck with Lynn Ashby in Pennsylvania and co-owns the horse with Mark Ashby. He was raised and continues to train at the couple’s 500-acre Middletown Training Center in Middletown, Delaware, just across the Maryland border.
According to Equibase statistics, Epic Luck is one of six 2-year-old winners from 12 starters this year for Ashby, herself a breast cancer survivor best known for breeding and training several major stakes winners and competing around the world with Arabians. When Delaware Park ended a nearly 40-year run of Arabian racing this summer, she put more focus on the Thoroughbreds she primarily in past years helped break and prepare to go to other trainers.
“These 2-year-olds, when they start blooming in the summer and fall they kind of really come into their own,” Ashby said. “I’m not necessarily an advocate to run 2-year-olds. We’ve just had an incredible year this year. We don’t push them. We just listen to them, and so far we’ve been lucky to have been in some good races. I think this will be a good test. It’s an open race. We’ll see what we’ve got. We’re going to come to play.”
Epic Luck was a 10 3/4-length winner of his debut, a 1-mile maiden optional claimer July 28 at Delaware where he went all the way up front under jockey Aubrie Green. Ashby put him on the turf for his next start in the 1 1/16-mile Kitten’s Joy August 31 at Colonial Downs, where he again found himself on the lead and won by 2 1/4 lengths. He was not favored in either start.
“It was kind of an easy field, I guess, when he broke his maiden on the dirt. It was a very slow time. That day all the times were pretty slow at Delaware. It was pretty deep,” Ashby said. “Next time we thought we’d just kind of break with the group and have him come from off of it but then it set up that we were the only ones out on the lead again. That’s one thing about Green, she’s very good at walking the dog. Even though it was a new venue I knew he’d love the turf because we have two turf courses at the farm. I already knew he was going to be a little better on the turf.”
Green gets the return call on Epic Luck from post 3 for Ashby, who owns 3 graded stakes victories with Thoroughbreds – the 2017 Cardinal (G3) and Violet (G3) and the 2018 Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3), all with Tricky Escape.
“We’re going to see if we’ve got just a ho-hum horse or whatever. He has grown a whole hand since I saddled him at Colonial. I really like how he has put on some muscle and weight,” Ashby said. “They’re still 2-year-olds. They do funny things sometimes when you don’t expect it. He seems pretty solid coming into it. We breeze here at the farm with him against some good company and he’s right there. I think he’s going in the right direction, for sure.”
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Among the competition are a pair of recent maiden winners, Ready to Purrform and High Stock. Donegal Racing’s Ready to Purrform, trained by reigning Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, rallied for a nose maiden special weight triumph going 1 1/16 miles on the Ellis Park turf September 3 in his lone start. Jevian Toledo gets the riding assignment from post 6.
Fortune Racing’s High Stock debuted in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight moved off the Colonial Downs turf August 17 and finished well back. Most recently, the Noble Mission colt was a front-running 6-length maiden special weight winner going a mile on the Laurel turf September 18 on the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) undercard.
“His first race was a disaster. I’d taken him to Colonial twice to run him on the grass. The first time he spiked a little temperature so I scratched him,” trainer Graham Motion said. “The second time he went down there it came off the grass, but I just felt like I had to run him.
“We knew all along he wanted the grass. That’s what we wanted to do,” he added. “I was a little surprised how nicely he did it, but he seemed to come out of it well. Ideally you’d rather (have) another week, but I think at this time of year you’ve got to take a shot.”
Victor Carrasco, up for the maiden win, will be back aboard from outside post 9.
“It seemed like he did it well within himself and he’s done well since,” Motion said. “Victor did a great job on him. He’s not a real robust horse. He’s got more of a sprinter’s frame but certainly we think he would handle the two turns.”
Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds’ homebred colt Stride broke his maiden first time out against High Stock at Colonial then came back to be fourth, beaten 4 lengths, in a 1-mile optional claiming allowance September 6 on the turf at Kentucky Downs, known for its unique and undulating course.
“He was a little surprised I think. Kentucky Downs is kind of a very particular track. He ran OK. I’m not sure he finished on the right ground. He was a little trapped where he was but he ran a decent enough race that I’d like to take a shot,” trainer Arnaud Delacour said. “He came back pretty tired from his first race so we gave him a little bit of time. I’m pleased with him. He’s a horse that keeps improving and seems to be in good form. He’s full of himself the last week training so I’m happy to go in that spot.”
Charlie Marquez is named to ride from post 2.
Owner-trainer Gregg Sacco supplemented maiden King of Hollywood to the Futurity after finishing third in back-to-back maiden special weights on the turf going 5 1/2 furlongs August 6 at Saratoga and 1 mile September 11 at Monmouth Park. The winner of the latter race, Shimmering Leroid, went on to be fourth in Monmouth’s September 26 Nownownow at odds of 100/1.
“He missed the break, got checked in the race, came rolling and finished third by a length and a quarter,” Sacco said of the most recent start. “We were encouraged to see that the horse that won our race was fourth in the stake at big odds and we thought we were much the best in that (maiden) race. We know it’s not going to be easy, but he’s talented so we’ll take a shot.”
Julian Pimentel has the call from post 1.
Completing the field are Three Diamonds Farm’s City At Night, second in a September 5 maiden special weight at Kentucky Downs who was scratched out of the Nownownow by trainer Mike Maker; Jeremy Brooks’ Wow Whata Summer, fourth to Epic Luck in the Kitten’s Joy; and Phil Schoenthal-trained stablemates Wish Me Home, third in the August 31 Rosie’s Stakes at Colonial, and September 1 Jamestown winner Determined Kingdom.
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