Laurel River Set For Desert Debut

Laurel River winning the 2022 Pat O'Brien | Benoit

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Juddmonte's Laurel River (Into Mischief), last seen running out a 3 3/4-length winner of the GII Pat O'Brien S. in August 2022 for Bob Baffert, has been entered for the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint (1200m) and the G3 Firebreak S. (1600m) on 'Fashion Friday' at Meydan Racecourse Jan. 26.

“Everything seems to be fine, we've gotten nothing but good reports from over there,” said Garrett O'Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte USA, who confirmed that the 6-year-old stallion will take part in the shorter of the two races Friday evening.

An impressive maiden winner at second asking in April 2021, Laurel River was second to The Chosen Vron (Vronsky) in the GIII Laz Barrera S. the following month, but went missing off an 11 1/2-length romp in his first start going a mile at Del Mar that September. A facile allowance winner first off an 11-month absence in July 2022, he defeated American Theorem (American Pharoah) and Senor Buscador (Mineshaft) in the Pat O'Brien to earn a berth in that year's GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He was scratched on the eve of the race, for which he would have been one of the top choices.

Laurel River was subsequently transferred to the successful yard of trainer Bhupat Seemar and cleared quarantine last October. He has been in steady work since, but the Juddmonte team are taking a pragmatic approach to what might lie ahead.

“I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. He's been off a long time,” O'Rourke said. “I'd like him to show that he still has the same sparkle, but obviously we expect some rust for as long as he's been off.”

O'Rourke indicated that it will be one step at a time with Laurel River and that near-term options include the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint–a race won last year by Juddmonte's champion Elite Power (Curlin)–and the G3 Mahab al Shimaal (1200m) or G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m) on Super Saturday in Dubai Mar. 2 en route to a possible appearance on Dubai World Cup night four weeks later.

“I'd say he'll dictate where we go,” O'Rourke said. “We have to answer one question first and that's whether he shows his old spark and ability and I think after that, we'll play it by ear. You don't want to pigeonhole yourself into any plan when something different might work out to be the best.

“We've got to get past this performance and move on after that,” O'Rourke continued. “We're just happy that the horse is healthy and happy and working well and wherever it leads us after this weekend, we'll see where we go with him.”

Laurel River will kick off his Dubai campaign on a mark of 116, among the highest-rated dirt horses in the jurisdiction. Isolate (Mark Valeski), winner of last year's G2 Godolphin Mile and on track for the G1 Saudi Cup next month, is rated on 117, while the top dirt sprinter Tuz (Oxbow) is rated 115. The latter, conditioned by Seemar, is also among the entries for the Al Shindagha Sprint.

 

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