By T. D. Thornton
One-to-five favorite Hello Beautiful (Golden Lad) glided unopposed through the Laurel Park homestretch in the $100,000 Distaff S. to win a Maryland Million Day stakes for the third consecutive year while 12-1 frontrunner Prendimi (Dance With Ravens) uncorked a gritty display of tenacity to finally break through in his third attempt to win the $150,000 Classic S., the feature event on Saturday's eight-stakes card for the offspring of in-state stallions.
A trio of Maryland stallions registered two-win days on the 36th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million program: Great Notion, the state's annual leading sire by earnings from 2018-20, has now sired at least one Maryland Million Day winner for 12 consecutive years. Golden Lad, who entered the day third in 2021 earnings by Maryland-breds, accounted for two main-track winners at six and seven furlongs. The offspring of Buffum, who died in 2019, swept the two juvenile sprint stakes.
Four of the afternoon's eight stakes produced tight finishes with winning margins of less than half a length, including a wild four-way photo in the $100,000 Turf Classic in which noses separated the top three finishers.
And there was even a dramatic touch of reclamation in the $100,000 Ladies S. on the turf: The 2020 winner of that stakes, Epic Idea (Great Notion), had gotten disqualified from her win in May 2021 when the Maryland Racing Commission took the unusual step of voting to overturn a stewards' decision to let the results stand even though Epic Idea had drifted out. After getting demoted to second in that 2020 edition of the Ladies S., Epic Idea gamely avenged that DQ by storming back to win the 2021 version.
Even though Hello Beautiful's 3 1/2-length win in the Distaff S. was not technically the feature race on Maryland Million Day, the 4-year-old was the headline horse. She didn't disappoint as the heaviest favorite of the afternoon, assuming command soon after the start and always controlling the race with an authoritative, freewheeling style that was accentuated by the fillies and mares in her wake being under full-out drives while Hello Beautiful soared home confidently under jockey Jevian Toledo, who was subbing for regular rider Sheldon Russell (broken foot).
“It was really emotional today,” said winning trainer Brittany Russell, who noted she was watching the race with her husband Sheldon, who acted as if he was “riding” Hello Beautiful himself instead of being sidelined. “I'm sure Toledo could feel that help,” she said with a laugh.
“She's so special,” Brittany Russell added. “She keeps running, and she keeps running hard.”
Hello Beautiful is owned in partnership by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables, and Magic City Stables. Bred by Hillwood Stables, LLC, she wired the seven furlongs in 1:22.22 over a “fast” main track en route to becoming the seventh horse to win three Maryland Million races.
The Classic offered a contrast in styles. Prendimi had finished second, beaten half a length, in this stakes in 2019, then ran last in a field of seven in the 2020 Classic. On Saturday, he cleared the field from post two, got pressured by a 25-1 shot, then appeared to be well within the striking sights of 3-5 fave Tappin Cat (Tritap) turning for home.
Jockey Mychel Sanchez braced for the attack by rousing Prendimi to a furious drive that lasted the length of the straightaway. Even though the narrow lead of the 6-year-old always seemed in peril, Prendimi (which loosely translates to “catch me” in Italian) kept repulsing Tappin Cat's bids to prevail by a neck in 1:50.46 for nine furlongs. The G J Stable homebred is trained by Luis Carvajal Jr.
“We always had faith in him,” Carvajal said. “He's a big horse, and he doesn't like to be behind horses.”
Epic Idea's half-length score in the Ladies S. was a study in ground-saving placement by jockey Daniel Centeno, who shipped in specifically for this stakes mount.
Centeno picked a spot at the fence and sat fourth with his stalking 7-2 shot for most of the nine-furlong trip over firm going before angling out and splitting horses with the Vivian Rall homebred to win in 1:49.46.
“I just looked back at her form,” said trainer Michael Merryman. “Her best race she ever ran was with Centeno. And we wanted to win it, so I made him fly up from Tampa.”
Merryman took the high road when asked post-race about Epic Idea's seven-months-after-the-fact DQ by the racing commission, which Rall had chosen not to appeal.
“It's a big redemption for us. I have to bite my tongue a little bit right now because everyone knows that that was not right,” Merryman said.
In the Turf S., a 20-1 shot set the pace and nearly half the field had a chance to inhale the caving leader off the final turn.
Somekindofmagician (Street Magician) ended up prevailing by a nose for owner Bell Gable Stable, LLC, trainer Gary Contessa, and jockey Angel Cruz. The 4-1 shot, bred by Earl Barnhart, covered the nine furlongs in 1:49.00.
The $100,000 Sprint S. on the Maryland Million card was won by 7-1 Air Token (Golden Lad), who was claimed as a $10,000 maiden by trainer Jose Corrales for his own outfit (Corrales Racing, LLC) back on Aug. 1, 2020.
That investment has now yielded nearly 30 times the claim price in purse earnings. But Air Token's record also shows that he was disqualified from his only other stakes victory, the $100,000 Concern S. at Laurel on Nov. 28, 2020, because of an overage of dimethyl sulfoxide (the anti-inflammatory drug DMSO). According to the stewards' ruling, Corrales was not fined or suspended because of “mitigating circumstances.”
Saturday's winning ride by J.D. Acosta was orchestrated by conceding the lead after Air Token broke running, then stalking a too-hot pace and tipping out for the drive to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:09.63 for six furlongs. Carol Ann Kaye was the winning breeder.
The two winners of the Maryland Million juvenile stakes not only shared a sire (the late Buffum), but both also had the distinction of re-rallying after briefly losing the lead.
Buff Hello withstood prolonged pace pressure in a spirited three-way go of alternating leaders under jockey Charlie Marquez to win the $100,000 Nursery S. for owner Joseph Besecker and trainer Claudio Gonzalez. Bred by Sergio Gomez, the 5-1 colt was clocked in 1:10.51 for six furlongs while two lengths clear at the wire.
Buff My Boots scored smartly in the $100,000 Lassie S. by slapping back what appeared to be a winning deep-stretch bid to prevail by half a length under Acosta at 9-2 odds in 1:11.14 for six furlongs. Bred by Hope Hill Farm Maryland, she's owned by Bird Mobberley, LLC, and trained by John Salzman, Jr.
A year ago, both Maryland Million juvenile winners had gone through the ring at EASOCT for relatively modest money: Buff My Boots for $7,000 and Buff Hello for $26,000.
In the $75,000 Turf Sprint S., Grateful Bred (Great Notion) sprinted straight to the lead at 1-2 odds and never had an anxious moment, covering 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.29 en route to a 1 1/2-length tally. The Gordon Keys homebred is trained by Madison Meyers. Toledo rode.