Monthly Archives: August 2018

New Upgraded Betting Terminals Installed At Virginia Bets OTBs In Time For Travers Weekend

Horseplayers that frequent the four Virginia Bets OTBs in the state will be in for a nice surprise on their next visit .

Am Tote, who is the Virginia Bets Tote provider, has brand new betting terminals and they are being installed at all four sites this week.  The Richmond install at Breakers Sports Grille and Ponies & Pints took place Wednesday morning.

The install at the Buckets Bar & Grill in Chesapeake will take place Thursday morning and  in Collinsville Friday at The Windmill Off Track Betting Sports Grill.

The new terminals will allow customers to see the cost of each wager as it is being entered, and see a display that outlines the horse name, number, odds, jockey/driver, etc. each race.

The upgrade will be finished in time for the Travers Day card at Saratoga on Saturday (Aug. 25) and for the free handicapping contest Sunday (Aug. 26) at Breakers!

Combined OTB & ADW Horse Racing Handle In Virginia Is Up Almost $10 Million Thru July

Virginia’s handle on horse race wagering is up nearly $10 Million over the same seven month period of a year ago courtesy of increases in both Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) and Off Track Betting (OTB) handle.

In the month of July, the four licensed ADWs — or on line betting partners — handled over $6.7 million from Virginia residents. TVG handled the most with $3,009,450 while Twin Spires was next with $2,616,924.  Xpress Bet came in third with $947,657 and relative newcomer NYRA Bets was fourth with $183,077.  ADW handle for the first seven months of 2018 was $52,468,854, up 3.2% over last year’s $50,842,558. ADW handle for the same period in 2016 was $47,457,633.

The Windmill OTB opened in mid-March, and currently is the only one in the Southwest, Virginia market.

Despite being second in handle generation,Twin Spires has made considerable gains in Virginia this year. They still trail TVG in terms of overall handle, but are up over 9% so far, processing $20,256,670 in horse race wagers versus $18,582,457 last year and $17,497,440 in 2016. TVG has handled $23,407,489 through July 31st.

OTB handle is up over $8 million this year with four sites operating now versus two sites a year ago. The OTB at Buckets Bar & Grill in Chesapeake, which opened last November,  has handled over $7.2 million in the seven months. The Windmill  OTB inside Collinsville’s Dutch Inn hotel has handled $2.1 million, though that center did not open until mid-March. Both Richmond sites — at Breakers Sports Grille and Ponies & Pints — continue to do well with respective handles of $6.01 million and $4.3 million.

Overall, when combining both the ADW and OTB monies along with handle generated at the May Virginia Gold Cup event, the seven month handle for 2018 is $72,3423,168, versus $62,568,893 in 2017.

Saratoga’s summer season is a popular for horseplayers. Their meet runs every Wednesday thru Monday until Labor Day.

Both Saratoga and Del Mar summer meets continue through Labor Day with their respective signature events still to come — Pacific Classic Day (Del Mar) on August 18th and Travers Day on August 25th (Saratoga). Both circuits run through Labor Day. A complete OTB simulcast schedule is available at

Thanks To Catholic Boy, Thomas No Longer Racing’s Best Secret

The following appeared in Thoroughbred Racing News and was written by Bill Finley

He was a valued and respected assistant to Todd Pletcher and was hired by Bridlewood Farm as their trainer, which gives him access to their first-class facility in Florida to train not only their horse but those for outside clients. Jonathan Thomas, just 38, has been busy building the groundwork for a top stable, one that some day could rival that of the premier trainers in the country. What he needed was a marquee horse to put him on the map.

That’s no longer a problem. Catholic Boy (More Than Ready) is coming off a win in the GI $1.2 million Belmont Derby, has won stakes on both the dirt and grass and has proven to be among the gamest horses in the sport. His next assignment will likely come in the GI Travers S., where he could be the second choice behind Good Magic (Curlin) and where a win would only further raise Thomas’s profile.

“The Travers and Belmont Derby are both obviously very important races,” he said. “For me, personally, it’s extremely meaningful. I think more important than that, for me being responsible for the career of Catholic Boy and showcasing his abilities and possibly putting him into a stallion barn down the road, that’s as meaningful as anything. He’s a deserving horse so are the clients that support us. Being able to deliver on a big day in the Belmont Derby was stellar for them.”

Trainer Jonathan Thomas is the son of Virginia Equine Alliance Track Superintendent J.D. Thomas. Photo by Sarah Andrew.

Thomas literally grew up on Rokeby Farm in Virginia and surrounded himself with horses from a young age. He began as a steeplechase jockey until a serious injured forced him to look elsewhere. He was an assistant to Dale Romans, spent some time working in Saudi Arabia, and then worked as an assistant to Christophe Clement and Todd Pletcher.

“Jonathan Thomas, he was a terrific assistant,” Pletcher said. “He’s a consummate professional, everything you’re looking for in an assistant trainer. He’s totally reliable, honest, good communicator, good horseman. We had some good years together. He did a great job, and I’m not surprised that he’s doing well on his own.”

In 2013, he left Pletcher to go work for Bridlewood and its owners, Leslie and John Malone. While he would be based for much of the year at their Ocala farm, he worked out an unusual arrangement with them as he would also be allowed to take on outside clients.

“We want to make sure we’re doing the best job possible on both fronts,” Thomas said. “I’m very fortunate to have the team that I have and the support I’ve gotten from my clients. Good people and good clients make it easy enough.”

Thomas says he currently has about 45 horses, which doesn’t include some of his 2-year-olds who aren’t quite ready for the races or horses coming back from layoffs.

Things started slowly for Thomas, and as recently as 2016, he had only two winners on the year from 18 starters, and stable earnings of $34,485. Things started to turn around when he began to attract outside owners.

Thomas discovered Catholic Boy at the 2016 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale, where he RNA’d for $170,000. He was able to buy him after the sale for a “fair price” on behalf of owner Robert LaPenta.

“He was a horse that Mr. LaPenta and his team allowed us to purchase and develop and he seemed to be doing real well in our system, so they left him with us. Thankfully, he did,” he said.

Catholic Boy won his first two races on the turf, including the GIII With Anticipation S., which was Thomas’s first career stakes win. After running fourth in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he made his first try on the dirt and won the GII Remsen S.

That had LaPenta, his fellow owners and Thomas, thinking GI Kentucky Derby. He ran respectably in the GIII Sam F. Davis at Tampa, finishing second, but followed that up with a well-beaten fourth in the GI Florida Derby.

“He had a one off bleeding episode (in the Florida Derby), which was unusual,” Thomas said. “It was enough to explain the effort, which was a little below par for him. At that point in time, the right thing to do was to regroup. The Kentucky Derby is very important, but in our operation we never want to let it compromise the horse.”

When Catholic Boy was ready, Thomas sent him back to the turf and the result was two remarkable efforts. In the first, the GIII Pennine Ridge S. and then the Belmont Derby, he gave up the lead to the Chad Brown-trained Analyze It (Point of Entry) in deep stretch, looked hopelessly beaten and then came on again to win.

“He’s certainly the gamest horse we’ve trained,” Thomas said. “The first mile of those races I watched as a trainer and the last furlong to a quarter of a mile I watched as a fan. It was something to behold. Analyze It is a very good horse and he’s a good barometer for our horse’s effort. We’re very proud of him. This horse really grinds it out.”

It might have made more sense to keep him on the grass but the connections want a definitive answer as far as his dirt ability goes, which they don’t believe they got in the Florida Derby. Barring a last-minute change of mind, the Travers will be next.

“We owe it to the horse and to the clients to leave that option on the table,” Thomas said. “We’ve let the horse dictate our next step and I think we’ll continue to do that. The timing of the Travers is very good. If there’s something we don’t like we can always adjust, but it’s worth at least investigating.”

Catholic Boy remains the only stakes winner Thomas has ever trained, but it’s not hard to envision his career taking off. Catholic Boy has given him exposure, new owners are starting to take notice and he shares many of the same traits that made Pletcher a star. Like his mentor, he’s polished, professional and ambitious.

Does he see himself someday having a stable that rivals Pletcher’s?

“I think as long as we can do a great job and do what’s best for our clients and our horses, I’d certainly be willing to head in that direction.” he said. “As long as we’re doing a quality job.”

He has a long way to go, but he certainly seems to have the tools to succeed and now he’s got a horse everyone is paying attention to. The Travers will be a big race not just for Catholic Boy but for his trainer.


A Maryland and West Virginia-Bred, Both Virginia Certified Two Year Olds, Win $40,000 Maiden Events At Laurel

Maryland-bred No Mo Lady and West Virginia-bred Burnin Ring O Fire, both Virginia Certified horses, captured respective $40,000 maiden special weight sprint races for two year olds August 10th at Laurel. The 5 1/2 furlong turf events were open to Virginia-bred, sired or certified horses.

Maryland-bred No Mo Lady spent her Virginia residency at Legacy Farm in Bluemont. Photo by Jim McCue.

No Mo Lady, a Mike Trombetta trainee, won by two lengths as the betting favorite against four others. Bred and co-owned by Larry Johnson, the winner was second in the turn before securing command at the top of the stretch. The filly is by Uncle Mo out of Thunderous Lady by Thunder Gulch. She spent her residency at Legacy Farm in Bluemont, Virginia.

All three Virginia-breds in the original field were scratched — Foot in the Door, Payneful and Indigo Queen. Kentucky-breds Beale Street, Creative Time and Trimmed in Grey finished second, third and fourth respectively while Maryland-bred Admiral’s Row was fifth.

​Burnin Ring O Fire on the other hand, faced all seven challengers in his division that originally entered. Susan Cooney’s Ready to Run led from the start until mid-stretch before tiring and surrendering the lead to the eventual winner. Burnin Ring O Fire circled the turn three deep from fifth and won by three lengths in 1:05.70. The Ray Pennington owned and bred gelding spent his six month residency at Ashland’s Eagle Point Farm. He is by Limehouse and is out of the E Dubai mare, Nashi. The upset winner paid $27.00.

West Virginia-bred Burnin Ring O Fire spent his residency at Eagle Point Farm in Ashland. Photo by Jim McCue.

Maryland-bred Tracy With a Y was second. Ready to Run, Drosselmoon, River Gal and Total Bien, all Virginia-breds, captured the third thru sixth spots. Candys Delight (Kentucky) and Luna de Fuego (Maryland) rounded out the field.

Pair Of Virginia-Bred, Sired & Certified 2 Year Old Maiden Races Set For Laurel On Friday August 10th

Two divisions of Virginia-bred, sired and certified two year old sprinters will square off in a pair of 5 1/2 furlong turf events Friday August 10th at Laurel. The races have been carded as the first and fifth, and each carries a $40,000 purse.

Candy’s Delight, a John Salzman trained Kentucky-bred, is early 3/1 favorite in the first while the Mike Trombetta trained Tracy With a Y, bred in Maryland, is second pick at 7/2. The former spent her six month residency at Horseshoe Hill Farm in Ashland while the latter was based at Legacy Farm in Bluemont. Virginia-bred River Gal, at 4-1, features the battery of trainer Phil Schoenthal and jockey Sheldon Russell, who connected with River Deep in Saturday’s Hansel Stakes.

Stephanie Nixon’s Horseshoe Hill Farm is located in Ashland, Virginia.

Others in the field include Virginia-breds Total Bien (Eric Rizer & Nancy Rizer), Ready to Run (Susan Cooney) and Drosselman (Quest Realty) along with Burnin Ring O Fire and Luna de Fuego. The former is a West Virginia-bred who gained his residency requirement at Eagle Point Farm in Ashland while the latter is a Maryland-bred filly who was based at Legacy Farm.

A trio of fillies get top early billing in the second division. No Mo Lady, a Mike Trombetta trained Maryland-bred, is 5-2, while Kentucky-bred Beale Street, owned by Virginian Amy Moore, is 7-2. Virginia-bred Indigo Queen, bred by Lazy Lane Farms, is 4-1. Other Virginia-breds in the field are Foot in the Door (Jim & Katie Fitzgerald) and Payneful (Quest Realty). Rounding out the slate is Admiral’s Row, a Maryland-bred who resided at Horseplay Hill Farm in Hamilton, and a pair of Kentucky-breds — Trimmed in Grey and Creative Time. The former is owned by Lady Olivia at Northcliff, where the filly also resided, and the latter will be ridden by Forest Boyce.

Sheldon Russell guided River Deep to victory in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes August 4th. Photo by Jim McCue.

Only two of the horses entered in either race has competed before. Candy’s Delight has a third and fourth place finish in two outs while Ready to Run took sixth in his only start. Post time for the respective events are 1:10 PM and 3:10 PM.

Leaders in both the owners and trainers bonus category for the 2018 Virginia-bred/sired series in Maryland have horses entered. Susan Cooney, who sits atop the trainer bonus standings with 21 points, has three in — Payneful, Ready to Run and Drosselmoon. Phil Schoenthal, second with 19 points, has a pair in — Admiral’s Row and River Gal. On the owner’s side, Quest Realty, which is tied for the top spot with 11 points, has a pair in Friday. A combined $40,000 in bonus monies will be awarded after the series concludes September 22nd.

Cooney Leads Virginia-Bred Trainer Bonus Standings; Three-Way Tie For Top Spot In Owners Category

Trainer/Owner Bonus Award Standings Update For 2018 Virginia-Bred/Sired Events

The second series of races in the 2018 Virginia-bred/sired stakes race program being held at Laurel Park is now complete, and updated trainer and owner standings for both bonus award divisions have been announced.

The first part of the series kicked off respectively on June 15th and 23rd. A $40,000 maiden race for fillies & mares was first, followed by a four-pack of $75,000 stakes that included The Edward Evans, White Oak Farm, Tyson Gilpin and Nellie Mae Cox Stakes. Respective winners, along with their trainer and owner were:

Maiden (F/M) – Altamura (John Stephens; Fred Seitz, Danny Ward & John Stephens)

Edward Evans – Sticksstatelydude (Kiaran McLaughlin; A. Haynes, J. Ferris, Pack Pride Racing, M. Haynes & B. Ward)

White Oak Farm – Determined Vision (Phil Schoenthal; D Hatman Thoroughbreds & Kingdom Bloodstock, Inc.)

Tyson Gilpin – Altamura (John Stephens; Fred Seitz, Danny Ward & John Stephens)

Nellie Mae Cox – Armoire (Arnaud Delacour; Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone)

The second part was held on August 4th with four $75,000 stakes races — the Camptown, William Backer, Hansel and Meadow Stable — along with a pair of maiden special weight races August 2nd and 4th. Winners, along with their trainer and owner are:

Maiden (F/M) – Holiday Hopes (Don Barr; Walter Vieser II)

Maiden (3 & up) – Vincent Van Gogo (Lacey Gaudet; Saratoga Seven Racing Partners)

Camptown – Altamura (Wayne Catalano; Susan Moulton)

William Backer – Paulita (Arnaud Delacour; Hat Creek Racing)

Hansel – River Deep (Phil Schoenthal; Morgan’s Ford Farm)

Meadow Stable – Homespun Hero (Mark Shuman; Tag Stables LLC & Bedlam)

New this year is a $40,000 bonus program, to be divided among top point earning owners and trainers that participate. $20,000 will be earmarked for trainers and $20,000 for owners. Points are tallied in the following manner — 5 for a first place finish, 4 for a second, 3 for a third, 2 for a fourth and 1 for every starter below fourth place.  After the 2018 series is complete, the trainer and owner with the most points will each win a $10,000 bonus. $4,000 will be awarded for second, $3,000 for third, $2,000 for fourth and $1,000 for fifth.

Sheldon Russell guided River Deep to victory in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes August 4th. Photo by Jim McCue.

Here are top point leaders in the $20,000 Trainers Bonus category:

Susan Cooney – 21

Phil Schoenthal – 19

Arnaud Delacour – 16

John Stevens – 12

Lilith Boucher – 7

Here are top point leaders in the $20,000 Owners Bonus category:

Mr. & Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone – 11

Quest Realty – 11

Walter Vieser – 11

Frederick J. Seitz, Danny Ward & John Stevens – 10

Andrew and Beck Lavin – 9

D. Hatman Thoroughbreds & Kingdom Bloodstock, Inc – 9

The series will continue with a pair of two year old races for Virginia-bred, sired or certified horses Friday August 10th at Laurel, then conclude with a five-pack of $75,000 stakes at Laurel on September 22nd — the Bert Allen, Brookemeade, Punch Line, Oakley and  Jamestown Stakes.

Paulita, Altamura Prevail In William Backer And Camptown Stakes At Laurel’s Commonwealth Day Card

The following is from a Laurel Park press release

Paulita Captures $75,000 William Backer Stakes

LAUREL, MD – More than two years after his passing, influential advertising executive and successful Thoroughbred owner and breeder William M. Backer was represented in the winner’s circle Saturday by a horse he bred winning her stakes debut in a race named in his honor.

Hat Creek Racing’s Paulita ($3.40) stalked pacesetter Secret Or Not for a half-mile before putting that rival away and turning back a late charge from multiple stakes winner Queen Caroline in the $75,000 William M. Backer Stakes at Laurel Park.

Paulita won for the second time in her young career August 4th in the $75,000 William Backer Stakes. Photo courtesy of Jim McCue.

The Backer and the $75,000 Camptown at 5 ½ furlongs, both for fillies and mares 3 and up, were among four stakes worth $300,000 in purses for Virginia-bred/sired horses on the 10-race Commonwealth Day program.

All four stakes were forced off Laurel’s world-class turf course due to heavy overnight rain and switched to a fast main track. Ridden by Daniel Centeno for trainer Arnaud Delacour, Paulita completed one mile in 1:38.23.

Secret Or Not and jockey Horacio Karamanos were intent on the lead and took the field through a quarter-mile in 24.37 seconds and a half in 48.38 as Centeno kept Paulita in the clear two wide. Paulita, entered for main track only, moved to even terms on the far turn and took over the top spot after six furlongs in 1:13.43, when Queen Caroline launched a bid on the outside.

Paulita is shown in the winner’s circle after capturing the 2018 William Backer Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue.

Paulita had plenty left to repel the challenge and hit the wire two lengths in front, with Queen Caroline 5 ¼-lengths ahead of Secret Or Not in third. Complete St. and Street Miz completed the order of finish.

A 3-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy bred by the William M. Backer Revocable Trust, Paulita had made her first four starts for trainer Chad Brown, graduating in an off-the-turf maiden special weight May 12 at Monmouth Park.

“I talked to Arnaud. He didn’t have too much time with her so he really didn’t know her well,” Centeno said. “He said breaking from the outside, do whatever you want to get a good position. It looks like there’s no speed, so if she breaks good let her go to the lead if nobody goes.

“I saw Karamanos send and it was perfect for me. I sat outside and had a good trip,” he added. “At the eighth pole I looked and saw [Queen Caroline] coming and when I looked back at my horse, when she felt [Queen Caroline] next to her she re-broke and opened up again in the last sixteenth.”

Paulita, out of the Not For Love mare Blind Date, was foaled Feb. 14, 2015. Backer, best known for creating the iconic ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’ campaign in 1971, died in May 2016 at the age of 89. Blind Date, winner of the 2009 Virginia Oaks (G3), was among his best horses.

Virginia-bred/sired fillies and mares 3 and up going a distance will complete their series at Laurel with the $75,000 Brookmeade Stakes, contested at 1 1/8 miles, Sept. 22.

Altamura Goes the Distance in $75,000 Camptown

Purchased for $205,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s summer horses of racing age sale last month, Susan Moulton’s Altamura paid immediate dividends for her new connections with a front-running 1 ¼-length victory in the $75,000 Camptown.

Racing first time for Chicago-based trainer Wayne Catalano and with Midwest journeyman Channing Hill aboard, Altamura ($9.80) pushed her win streak to three races, all over older horses, the last two in stakes. The winning time for 5 ½ furlongs was 1:03.78.

Altamura, a late-running winner of the M. Tyson Gilpin Stakes for Virginia-bred/sired horses on the turf June 23 at Laurel, broke sharply from the rail and put herself on the lead stalked to her outside by Up Hill Battle, the 3-2 favorite, through fractions of 22.37 and 45.30 seconds.

Altamura won her third race in a row, capturing the Camptown Stakes August 4th at Laurel. Photo by Jim McCue.

The leaders rounded the far turn and headed for home together until Altamura found another gear in mid-stretch after running five furlongs in 57.32. What the Beep got up for second, 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Up Hill Battle, also third in the Gilpin. They were followed by Sister Says, Do What I Say, Gilpin runner-up Virginia Fable, defending Camptown champion Northern Eclipse and Well Blessed.

“It definitely wasn’t the strategy. I thought there was quite a bit of speed in here,” Hill said. “She broke so well I just kind of let her carry us with [Up Hill Battle] right outside of us. Obviously, I wasn’t going to take back from there.

“I was happy how much she kicked for home because I had to use her a little bit around the turn just to kind of keep my spot down in there and she really punched home nice,” he added. “This is a nice filly. I was wondering why they bought her, and now I know why.”

With the win Altamura improved to a perfect 3-0 at Laurel, having scored in a maiden special weight June 15, also at 5 ½ furlongs on the grass. The $75,000 Oakley for Virginia-bred/sired fillies and mares 3 and up will be run Sept. 22 at Laurel.

River Deep, Homespun Hero Capture Hansel and Meadow Stables Stakes At Laurel’s Commonwealth Day Program

The following was from a Laurel press release.

River Deep Returns To Form With Dominant $75,000 Hansel Win

LAUREL, MD – Morgans Ford Farm homebred River Deep, unsuccessful in four tries since ending 2017 on a four-race win streak, made an emphatic return to that late-season form with a dominating 7 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s $75,000 Hansel Stakes at Laurel Park.

The Hansel and the $75,000 Meadow Stable at 5 ½ furlongs, both for 3-year-olds and up, were among four stakes worth $300,000 in purses for Virginia-bred/sired horses on the 10-race Commonwealth Day program.

Sheldon Russell guided River Deep to victory in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes August 4th. Photo by Jim McCue.

Heavy overnight rain forced all four stakes to be moved off Laurel’s world-class turf course to a fast main track. River Deep ($3.60), favored at 4-5 a field of six, ran one mile in 1:36.68.

“After his [last] three races we were a little nervous that last year was an aberration and really he might not have been that good or he caught the right bunch of horses,” winning trainer Phil Schoenthal said. “Today, 1:36 and change is racehorse time and I think he’s getting back in his groove so we’re excited about that.”

River Deep broke sharpest of all and was quickly in front under jockey Sheldon Russell, going in 24.42 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 48.27 for the half pressed by Carbon Data, who set the pace before tiring to fifth in the first leg of the Virginia-bred/sired series, the one-mile Edward Evans on turf June 23.

2018 Hansel Stakes winner River Deep is shown in the winners circle at Laurel August 4th. Photo by Jim McCue.

A 4-year-old son of Arch, River Deep remained in command after going six furlongs in 1:12.71 and, once straightened for home, put his rivals away with a powerful run through the stretch. Carbon Data was a clear second, 5 ¼ lengths in front of Jump Ship, followed by Speed Gracer, Whiskey Wu and Officer’s Oath. Special Envoy, the defending champion and 3-5 program favorite, was scratched.

“That was always the plan especially this morning when they came off the grass. Phil mentioned to me in the paddock to take it to them,” Russell said. “He’s always a horse that’s broken sharp and put himself in the race, and it just happened to be that we had the fastest horse today.”

“We’ll talk to the owners and look it over. Obviously this third leg of the stakes series is on our radar,” Schoenthal said. “If there’s something between now and then, we’ll see, if not we’ll just wait for that race.”

Homespun Hero Tenacious Winner of $75,000 Meadow Stable

Pressed from the outset by top choices Determined Vision and Fly E Dubai, Tag Stables and Bedlam’s Homespun Hero dug in along the inside and fended off both horses the length of the stretch to win the $75,000 Meadow Stable Stakes.

It was the first win in 14 starts dating back to March of 2017 for Homespun Hero ($10), who completed a stakes double for jockey Daniel Centeno, winner of the $75,000 William M. Backer aboard Paulita three races earlier.

Homespun Hero was best in an exciting four horse field August 4th in the Meadow Stable Stakes. photo courtesy of Jim McCue.

“We had a great day,” Centeno said. “The plan was to try to break sharp. The last time he got in a little trouble at Laurel but he finished good. Today the only speed was [Determined Vision]. I tried to keep my horse clear and he was nice today all the way around. Turning for home, he put his head in front and he fought all the way to the wire.”

Homespun Hero, fifth by 1 ½ lengths in the 5 ½-furlong White Oak Farm for Virginia-bred/sired horses over the Laurel turf June 23, and Determined Vision dueled for the lead as the first quarter-mile went in 22.49 seconds. Even-money favorite Determined Vision, racing two wide, put a nose in front on the turn but Homespun Hero reestablished his advantage after a half in 45.80.

Homespun Hero’s connections — jockey Daniel Centeno and trainer Mark Shuman accept the Meadow Stables Stakes trophy from VTA Board member Jim Arrison.

Fly E Dubai swept to the outside to join the leaders and make it a three-horse race at the top of the stretch, but Homespun Hero would not waver after going five furlongs in 57.69 seconds, completing 5 ½ furlongs in 1:03.39 to win by a length. Determined Vision was second with Fly E Dubai another 2 ½ lengths back in third.

“It was actually Plan B. I didn’t think we had enough speed to go with [Determined Vision] but we drew the rail,” winning trainer Mark Shuman said. “My horse maybe gets a little bit chicken when he gets stuck inside, so I said if you’re there I’d rather you be a little in front than a half-length back. Danny did the rest from there and stayed after him. We’ve had a couple bad-luck trips but today went our way.”

Vincent Van Gogo Kicks Off Commonwealth Day at Laurel With A Maiden Victory

Congratulations to Virginia-bred Vincent Van Gogo, who kicked off Commonwealth Day at Laurel with a nice maiden special weight triumph.

Vincent Van Gogo captured his furst lifetime win in a $40,000 maiden special weight event for Virginia-breds August 4th at Laurel. Photo by Jim McCue.

The 3 year old Paynter gelding rode the rail from fourth in the one mile dirt event and passed a trio of frontrunners in the stretch to prevail. He was bred by Jim Fitzgerald & Katie Fitzgerald and was ridden by Rosario Montanez.

Arkadag (Mr. & Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin III) was second and Lunar Boogie (Foxcroft Farm) was third. Rounding out the field was Seattle Ric (Nancy Rizer & Eric Rizer), Stormy Patriot (Lazy Lane Farms), Dragonthorn Steed (Run Aweigh Stable) and Troopingthecolor (William Backer Revocable Trust). Jeremiah John did not run. Due to heavy rains Friday night and much of the past week, all races were taken off the turf.

Vincent Van Gogo is shown in the winner circle August 4th at Laurel.

Commonwealth Day continues at Laurel with four $75,000 Virginia-bred stakes. Photo courtesy of Jim McCue.

Delacour, Firestones Aim For Laurel Stakes Sweep On August 4th

Special Envoy Goes After Fourth Stakes Win in $75,000 Hansel
Armoire Carries Momentum into $75,000 William M. Backer
Well-Rested Determined Vision Targets $75,000 Meadow Stable
Virginia Fable Looks to Change Plot in $75,000 Camptown

LAUREL, MD – Led by stakes winners Special Envoy and Armoire, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone and trainer Arnaud Delacour will have an imposing presence when a quartet of stakes for Virginia-bred/sired horses returns to Laurel Park Saturday, Aug. 4.

Special Envoy, with his seasonal debut out of the way and four sharp subsequent works under his belt, looms a heavy favorite in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the All Along turf course.

Armoire scored a breakthrough first career stakes victory last time out after three successive runner-up finishes, and returns as the horse to beat in the $75,000 William M. Backer for fillies and mares 3 and older on the Dahlia turf course at 1 1/16 miles.

Special Envoy swept last year’s Edward Evans, Hansel and Bert Allen for Delacour and the Firestones, long-time owners from Upperville, Va. who won the 1980 Eclipse Award as leading owner and campaigned such horses as Hall of Fame filly Genuine Risk and multiple Grade 1 winner General Assembly, whose 1 ¼-mile track record at Saratoga stood for 37 years until broken in the 2016 Travers (G1).

Delacour and the Firestones have a third contender in 5-year-old mare Well Blessed, who is cross-entered in both the Backer and the $75,000 Camptown for fillies and mares 3 and older at 5 ½ furlongs.

Rounding out Saturday’s Virginia-bred/sired stakes action is the $75,000 Meadow Stable for 3-year-olds and up, also contested at 5 ½ furlongs. First race post time is 1:10 p.m.

“We really feel privileged to train for such accomplished people in the game,” Fair Hill, Md.-based Delacour said. “It’s great exposure and they obviously understand the horses very well. They’ve got a lot of experience and it’s a pleasure to be able to train horses for people like that.”

Special Envoy & jockey Daniel Centeno after the 2017 Hansel victory last August. Photo by Jim McCue.

Special Envoy was given a long break after completing his sweep of the Edward Evans, Hansel and Bert Allen against fellow Virginia-breds in 2017, ending a space of nearly nine months between races in the one-mile Evans June 23.

In that race, the 7-year-old Stroll gelding settled near the back of the pack but was never more than three lengths from the front, circled rivals on the outside and came with a steady gain down the stretch but was unable to catch Sticksstatelydude and finished second by a length.

New York-based trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Sticksstatelydude is sidelined with a minor injury and will miss this and possibly the third round of Virginia-bred/sired stakes scheduled for Sept. 22 at Laurel.

“It was his first race of the year, and usually he needs one. Last year we were lucky enough to be able to run one time before the race, so he probably needed the race,” Delacour said. “Also, the mile is not his best distance. I think a mile and a sixteenth, mile and an eighth is the optimum for him.”

Special Envoy has worked four times over the all-weather surface at Fair Hill since the Evans, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:01 July 21. Most recently he went the same distance in 1:00.40, ranking fourth of 30 horses July 28. Regular rider Daniel Centeno will be aboard again from Post 3 in a field of seven. All horses will carry 118 pounds.

“I think he put in a good effort last time for his first race of the year,” Delacour said. “He came out of it well and he is doing very well. We are looking forward to the race.”

Quest Realty homebred Speed Gracer also returns after rallying to be third in the Evans, just a neck behind Special Envoy. A 4-year-old gelding trained by Berryville, Va.-based Susan Cooney, Speed Gracer ran third in the Evans and Hansel and second in the Bert Allen to Special Envoy last year.

“One of these days maybe Special Envoy will retire and we can maybe win one of these races,” Cooney said. “I think the further the better for him. He likes to be forward but maybe not on the lead. He’s a nice kind of horse in that he will switch off for the jockey. If he gets covered up he’ll completely drop the bit and let you put him wherever you want and save some energy that way.”

The Evans was the second start of the year for Speed Gracer, who was second in an optional claiming allowance going 1 1/8 miles April 22 and came back to run sixth, beaten  less than five lengths, in a similar spot at 1 1/16 miles July 15, both at Laurel.

“He’s a useful horse,” Cooney said. “A couple weeks ago he wasn’t beaten very far and got a good number, but he just didn’t fire. It was so dry and they were watering the track a lot and the turf was really loose, and he just wasn’t getting hold of it. He was just like spinning his wheels. We definitely aren’t going to have that on Saturday. Hopefully we stay on the turf. It will be soft and he does like soft going, so that will be in his favor.”

Feargal Lynch returns to ride Speed Gracer from Post 2 while Xavier Perez is named on Whiskey Wu, a 3-year-old Flatter gelding making his 10th career start and first in a stakes for Quest Realty and Cooney, breaking from Post 1.

River Deep – cross-entered in the Meadow Stable – and Carbon Data, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Evans; Jump Ship, fourth in the 2017 Evans and Hansel and second in the 2016 Bert Allen; and Officer’s Oath, winner of the 2016 Gladstone Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills, N.J. for owner Bruce Smart Jr. and trainer James Day, complete the field.

Armoire Carries Momentum into $75,000 William M. Backer

Armoire broke through with her first career stakes victory last time out, and is the likely favorite to make it two in a row in the $75,000 William M. Backer.

With regular rider Daniel Centeno up, Armoire rated behind an early speed duel up front, was tipped outside and swept to the lead at the top of the stretch and went on to a 1 ½-length triumph in the one-mile Nellie Mae Cox June 23.

The outcome avenged three consecutive runner-up finishes in last year’s Virginia-bred/sired stakes at Laurel, to Queen Caroline in the Cox and Brookmeade and Sweet Sandy in the Backer, by a combined 2 ¼ lengths.

“Everything set up well for her. We had a strong pace to run at and she came with a big, big run. Of course, that was great,” Delacour said. “I expect the same kind of performance [this] time but it all depends on the pace scenario and everything. She’s a tricky filly. In the past, she doesn’t really like to be inside and she needs a good strong pace to run at. That’s the best scenario for her.”

Armoire, a 5-year-old daughter of Grade 1 turf winner Artie Schiller, owns four wins and four seconds from 10 career starts. Her only off-the-board finishes came when fifth by just two lengths in an optional claiming allowance at Tampa to open 2017, and when she was unable to recover after a horse she was trailing stumbled and lost its rider in November of her 2-year-old season.

“She’s a very nice filly,” Delacour said. “The only time she didn’t run well was when a horse dropped the jockey in front of her at Aqueduct and we had to check and she finished last. But, that’s nothing that she did wrong that day, just circumstances. Other than that she’s been very consistent each time.”

Centeno has the mount for the fifth straight time from Post 7 of eight at topweight of 122 pounds.

Sweet Sandy edged Armoire in the inaugural William Backer Stakes August 5th, 2017 at Laurel. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Amy Moore’s five-time stakes winner Queen Caroline raced in contention but weakened to be third behind Armoire by 3 ¾ lengths in the Nellie Mae Cox, her 5-year-old debut and first race in nearly eight months. Since that effort, she was fifth, beaten two lengths, in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff going 1 1/16 miles July 14 at Indiana Grand.

Trained by Michael Matz, Queen Caroline has never been worse than third in four career tries at Laurel, winning the Cox and Brookmeade in 2017 and also finishing third in last year’s Backer as Sweet Sandy posted a 13-1 upset.

Fig Tree Farm’s Sweet Sandy won the 2017 Backer by a neck over Armoire, giving the now 6-year-old Flatter mare and trainer Danielle Hodsdon their first career stakes victories. Sweet Sandy has been unable to repeat that performance in five tries since, most recently running eighth in the Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) July 7 at Delaware Park.

Rounding out the field are Armoire’s stablemates Paulita, a recent purchase by Hat Creek Racing entered for main track only, and Well Blessed, cross-entered in the Camptown; Complete St. and Secret Or Not, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Cox; and Street Miz.

Well-Rested Determined Vision Targets $75,000 Meadow Stable

D Hatman Thoroughbreds and Kingdom Bloodstock Inc.’s Determined Vision, a front-running winner of the White Oak Farm stakes in his turf debut, has had plenty of time to recover from that effort heading into the $75,000 Meadow Stable.

A full brother to Grade 3 winner Just Call Kenny, 3-year-old Jump Start gelding Determined Vision has raced on no longer than three weeks’ rest this year but enters the Meadow Stable having had six weeks since his breakout victory in the 5 ½-furlong White Oak Farm.

“He’s doing fantastic. I was kind of happy to not run him back in between races and kind of give him the six weeks,” trainer Phil Schoenthal said. “He had run on [short] rest several times in a row to start his career and has really blossomed over the last month or so. He’s gained about 35 pounds and looks like a million dollars and really, I think, is primed for a huge effort when he comes back.”

Jevian Toledo will have the return call from Post 3 on Determined Vision, who sprung an 11-1 upset of the White Oak Farm after blazing through fractions of 21.72 and 44.65 seconds and holding sway to win by a half-length over Available and one length ahead of Lime House Louie, both of whom return in the Meadow Stable. Determined Vision will carry 117 pounds, one fewer than the rest of the field.

Determined Vision broke his maiden at legendary Pimlico Race Course May 24 in his second start this year, then was sixth in an entry-level allowance when stretched out to a mile facing elders for the first time. He was cut back and put on the grass for the White Oak Farm, also against older horses.

“He is a big, imposing, grand-looking horse. He was the grand champion of the Virginia-bred yearling show. He is just a very impressive horse to look at and to watch train. He just has that presence the way he travels and moves. He’s the kind of horse that every trainer likes to watch train and say, ‘That one’s mine,’” Schoenthal said. “I still believed he was good horse but his speed figures indicated he really wasn’t that caliber of horse. I was hoping that a change of surface would wake him up a little bit or at least show us what we were seeing in the morning, and I think we saw that.”

Determined Vision (inside) won the 2018 White Oak Farm Stakes June 23rd at Laurel. Photo by Jim McCue.

Four other horses from the White Oak Farm are also back – fourth, fifth and sixth-place finishers Fly E Dubai, Homespun Hero and 11-year-old gelding Two Notch Road, whose five stakes wins include the 2017 Meadow Stable, his most recent victory – and Braxton, who finished eighth. They are joined by Determined Vision’s stablemate, River Deep, cross-entered in the Hansel.

Virginia Fable Looks to Change Plot in $75,000 Camptown

Unable to hold off Altamura in the M. Tyson Gilpin for her first career stakes win, Becky and Andrew Lavin’s Homebred Virginia Fable is looking to rewrite the ending in the $75,000 Camptown.

Susan Cooney-trained Virginia Fable set demanding fractions of 22.36 and 44.93 seconds in the June 23 Gilpin, maintained a one-length lead into the stretch and battled to the wire before falling a head short at odds of 23-1.

Showing no ill effects from that performance, the 3-year-old Swagger Jack filly led from start to finish for a 3 ½-length maiden special weight triumph over older horses July 14 at Laurel, her eighth start and sixth this year.

“She has definitely been an improvement,” Cooney said. “She’s been quite a bit of a challenge. She tends to misbehave quite a bit at the races and is finally learning how to behave herself and it’s showing in her running.”

As she did for her maiden win, Virginia Fable wheels back in three weeks for the Camptown, which will be her third lifetime stakes try. As a 2-year-old she finished sixth in the 2017 Jamestown at Laurel.

“She’s a big, strong filly. She looks more like a colt, really. She’s very solid. Other than when put the rider up and she starts getting all fired up, she’s very easy about everything else,” Cooney said. “She eats good and at our training center in Virginia she gets turned out every day. She recovers very quickly. Her races don’t take much out of her.”

Virginia Fable is shown show winning at Laurel last month. Photo by Jim McCue.

Altamura has won two straight races including the Gilpin, and will be making her first start since being sold for $205,000 to Susan Moulton at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky 2018 Selected Horse of Racing Age Sale July 9. She has breezed twice at Churchill Downs for new trainer Wayne Catalano.

“I feel good. We expect a really effort. Altamura [is] back but she had to go to Kentucky and get sold and come back so maybe that will take something out of her,” Cooney said. “[Virginia Fable] breaks well and she has a very high cruising speed. She doesn’t have to be on the lead but she keeps finding herself there. It’s not like we ask her to do that; she’s kind of doing that on her own.”

Xavier Perez has the call on Virginia Fable from far outside Post 8 at co-low weight of 113 pounds.

Well Blessed was cross-entered in the 1 1/16-mile William M. Backer but trainer Arnaud Delacour said she was likely to start in the Camptown. The 5-year-old Exchange Rate mare contested a strong pace for six furlongs before tiring to be last of seven in the one-mile Nellie Mae Cox last time out.

“The last time we used the long race to give her a race and see if she could help Armoire have a little bit of a decent pace. She was pretty quick and then got a bit tired, but she put up a big fight, so I think [at] 5 ½ [furlongs] she should be competitive,” Delacour said. “Laurel is a great racetrack to try her at that distance because you’ve got plenty of stretch and you definitely have time to finish. So, that will be interesting to see.”

Do What I Say, Hugh McMahon-trained stablemates Northern Eclipse and Up Hill Battle, Sister Says and What the Beep are also entered.