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.