Great Racing and Ample Sunshine on Maryland Million Day

R. Larry Johnson and RDM Racing Stable’s Sky’s Not Falling, making just his second start of the year, raced near the lead approaching the stretch before taking over the top spot and holding off Rock the Boat through the lane for a half-length victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

The 5 ½-furlong Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up was the first of three grass stakes on the 37th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program of eight stakes and four starter stakes on ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Also on the grass were the $125,000 Turf for 3-year-olds and up and $125,000 Ladies for fillies and mares 3 and older, both at 1 1/8 miles. Serving as the headliner was the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up going nine furlongs on the main track.

With Paco Lopez subbing for jockey Victor Carrasco, injured in a spill Friday, Sky’s Not Falling completed the distance in 1:02.75 over a firm All Along Turf Course to avenge his 1 ½-length defeat in last year’s Turf Sprint to Grateful Bred. Favored at 3-5 to defend his title, Grateful Bred got squeezed back out of the gate and raced near the back of the pack before finishing a non-threatening fifth.

“Michael he told me he’s a nice horse and put him right there,” Lopez said. “The favorite was outside of me. I don’t know what happened to the favorite, if he stumbled in the gate at the break. Around the three-eighths [pole] I figured [I] was in a little tight and took him to the middle. This is a little longer straight. I move a little early, but this is a nice horse and he made it to the wire.”

Sky’s Not Falling broke sharply but was outrun for the lead by Boss Man JJ and Cynergy’s Star, who raced together through a quarter-mile in 21.12 seconds as Sky’s Not Falling settled in third. Cynergy’s Star began to drop back as Lopez shifted off the rail into second midway around the turn, ranged up on Boss Man JJ and edged past once straightened for home for the long run to the second wire.

“That wire has been my enemy for quite some time,” Trombetta said. “It usually winds up hurting you more than it helps you.”

Rock the Boat was a clear second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Showtime Cat, who edged Cynergy’s Star by a neck for third. They were followed by Grateful Bred, Boss Man JJ, Pickin Sea Glass and Island Philo. Maryland-breds Can the Queen, Justwaveandsmile, B Determined, Monster Mason and Where Paradise Lay were scratched.

Sky’s Not Falling had two wins and four seconds from nine starts in 2021, but went to the sidelines over the winter after ending his sophomore season running second in an optional claiming allowance at Laurel. He returned 10 months later in the Sept. 24 Laurel Dash at historic Pimlico Race Course, running last of seven.

“He wasn’t quite screwed down tight enough to compete at that level against those horses, but this was the obvious call. We wanted to get this one in,” Trombetta said. “We brought him in here in February and out of nowhere he popped a really nasty shin splint that just needed time. I figured, ‘Gosh, this is going to be tough. We got him going in enough time to at least get the one race. I would have loved to have had two, but there just wasn’t enough time.

“He hasn’t missed much since he’s been back at it pretty good here. I knew the race at Pimlico he had no chance. We told Victor to try to make the best of it and do the best you can,” he added. “They scooted away from him and he chased them all the way around and that was about all that we could get. I would have loved to have another one, but maybe it was better I didn’t.”

It was the second Maryland Million win for Lopez, who captured the 2019 Classic with Forest Fire. Trombetta moved into a tie with Hall of Fame horseman King T. Leatherbury for second all-time with his 10th Maryland Million victory.

Charles J. ‘Chip’ Reed’s homebred Johnyz From Albany, the son of a two-time Maryland Million winner, lived up to the family tradition by jumping out to an early lead and never looking back in rolling to a front-running five-length triumph in Saturday’s $100,000 Nursery at Laurel Park.

The Nursery for 2-year-olds and $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, both sprinting six furlongs, were among eight stakes and four starter stakes that comprised the 37th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Johnyz From Albany ($10.20) is by Blofeld out of the Oratory mare Monster Sleeping, winner of the 2013 and 2015 Maryland Million Lassie going long on the grass. Similarly owned by Reed and trained by Dale Capuano, Monster Sleeping also won the 2015 Jameela sprinting six furlongs on the turf.

“Hopefully he’s like his mother. She won at [six furlongs] on the turf and a mile and an eighth twice. So, maybe he can do the same,” Capuano said after extending his Maryland Million record to 15 career wins. “I told Chip all along I think he’s going to be a better 3-year-old, so we’re excited about him.”

Ridden by Jorge Ruiz, who won the 2020 Nursery with Capuano-trained Kenny Had a Notion, Johnyz From Albany exited sharply from Post 7 in a field of 11 and quickly established command through a quarter-mile in 22.75 seconds. His stablemate, Luis Ulman and Neil Glasser’s Lost Weekend, found early trouble after breaking inwardly and bumping Tiz No Clown to his outside.

Johnyz From Albany was two lengths clear as the field raced down the backstretch and maintained his advantage into the turn when Heldish and Wildhunch, an Oct. 13 maiden special weight winner at Delaware Park that went off as the 2-1 favorite, launched their bids. Ruiz had plenty left after a half in 46.37 seconds, opening up on his rivals once straightened for home and cruising to the line in 1:11.35 over a fast main track.

Heldish finished second, 1 ½ lengths head of Wildhunch, who edged Bestsugardaddyever by a neck for third. Lost Weekend, Tiz No Clown, Pride of Payton, Paymengold, Indybound, Bo’s Bourbon and Bandits Heart completed the order of finish. Feeling Woozy and Maryland-breds Super Acclerate and Hop and Scotch were scratched.

“The plan was to go to the front, and my horse ran very well,” Ruiz said.

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Johnyz From Albany broke his maiden at first asking in a five-furlong maiden special weight Aug. 21 at Laurel. He came back to be third behind Super Chow in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Sept. 10 at historic Pimlico Race Course, beaten a neck for second by Heldish, and most recently ran second to Recruiter Oct. 2 in the slop at Laurel.

“When he was two in front down the backside I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ He was doing it easy. His work for this race was the best work that he’s had, so he came into it really well. It helps when they have races. He had three races under his belt and I’m old school. I like to run ‘em,” Capuano said. “As excited as I am about this one I was that much disappointed with [Lost Weekend] because he didn’t get a chance to run his race.”

Capuano said Johnyz From Albany’s will likely remain sprinting for the time being, but he would ultimately like to try the gray or roan gelding on the turf.

“I’d really like to get him on the grass even though he went well today on the dirt and his dirt races have been good,” he said. “His grass breeding is good, and he worked phenomenal on the grass. Next year I’d like to try him; how far he goes, I don’t know.”

Coconut Cake, nearly two years since she last visited the winner’s circle, held off a game Double Fireball to win the $125,000 Maryland Million Ladies by a head. It was three-quarters of a length to Amplio Esquema in third.

A 5-year-old mare by Bandbox, Coconut Cake has been competitive from five furlongs to Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile distance, but she hadn’t won since Dec. 31 of 2020. But the gray mare had competed during that time in nine stakes races and had been close a number of times, including a third-place finish in the All Brandy and a fourth-place finish in her last start in July in the Big Dreyfus.

Despite the lack of winner’s circle photos, trainer Tim Keefe never lost confidence in her ability.

“My biggest concern was figuring out what she liked,” Keefe said. “She’s such a racehorse and tries every time I’ve run her. She’s won short, long, dirt and turf. I finally come to the realization her preference is running long on the grass, and that’s what I’ve tried to focus on.”

Jockey Sheldon Russell, who picked up the mount when regular rider Kevin Gomez was injured Friday, said he got the perfect trip.

“She broke and she put me in a great spot. I knew going around the first turn, she was just traveling so smoothly,” Russell said. “I was able to just tuck her behind and around the second turn she was really eager…If anything, I just jumped on her at the top of the stretch, and she just battled; fair play to her. She was well-prepared.

“I feel very bad for Kevin Gomez. This one is for him. I’ll make sure to take care of him and give him 50 percent of the purse because he’s done all the work with her. Today, I just got lucky to ride her.”

Coconut Cake covered the firm course in 1:50.22

It didn’t start out the way they planned, but CJI Phoenix Thoroughbreds and No Guts No Glory Farm’s Fille d’Esprit made sure Saturday’s $100,000 Maryland Million Distaff at Laurel Park ended exactly the way they hoped.

Already with three career stakes wins Fille d’Esprit ($5.40) became a Maryland Million winner for the first time in the 11th start of her 6-year-old season with a 1 ¼-length triumph over fellow multiple stakes winner Malibu Beauty in the seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares 3 and up.

The Distaff and $100,000 Sprint for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs were among eight stakes and four starter stakes that comprised the 37th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Under jockey Xavier Perez, Fille d’Esprit covered the distance in 1:25.05 over a fast main track to give trainer Jerry Robb his ninth career Maryland Million win and second in the Distaff following Anna’s Bandit in 2019, also with Perez. Fille d’Esprit and Anna’s Bandit share the same sire, Great Notion, and grandsire, No Armistice.

“I told Xavier that we had to beat [Malibu Beauty] so try not to let her get the jump on us, but she did anyway. He sat and waited for it to open up and when it did, she fired big,” Robb said. “I thought we were the better filly because I have other fillies that beat [Malibu Beauty], like Street Lute, and this filly is better than Street Lute. She just needed a run and, luckily, she got it.”

Malibu Beauty, exiting an eight-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile George Rosenberger Memorial Oct. 1 at Delaware Park, was hustled to the front from Post 2 and led through a quarter-mile in 23.19 seconds and a half in 46.79 pressed by 13-1 long shot Fool Yourself. Perez and Fille d’Esprit settled in third, got into striking position on the turn, overcame a game Malibu Beauty turning for home and edged clear.

“The intention breaking from the rail was to use the same tactic we used [before] and just try to head for the lead,” Perez said. “We got a perfect rail ride. Turning for home I saw [Fool Yourself] start slowing down and I tipped out, and it was game over from that point on. She switched to her right lead, and she just fired on.”

Malibu Beauty stayed up for second, a length ahead of Sweet Gracie with Bourbon Wildcat another 2 ½ lengths back in fourth. They were followed by Fool Yourself, Wicked Hot, Breviary, Summer Odds and Courageous Girl. Maryland-breds R B’s Star and Edie Meeny Miny Mo were scratched.

Fille d’Esprit ran sixth behind Hello Beautiful’s historic victory in last year’s Distaff, her first start in more than 10 months. Claimed for $10,000 in August 2020 out of her third career start, Fille d’Esprit won for the fourth this year and 11th overall, pushing her over the $500,000 mark in purse earnings.

“I was so confident. I know she was just going to keep on going and not let anybody go by her,” Perez said. “She’s got such a heart. She’s got the same bloodlines as Anna’s Bandit and that’s the reason Jerry claimed her to begin with.

“She never disappoints me, even when she’s a little naughty in the morning. She misbehaves sometimes but I understand,” he added. “I’ve been dealing with her for two years, so we’ve gotten to bond pretty nice. Hopefully she keeps kicking [butt].”

Chickieness, the 4-5 favorite, drove past Skylar’s Sister and Bosserati inside the final sixteenth to win the $100,000 Lassie, covering six furlongs in 1:12.58 under jockey Jaime Rodriguez.

A 2-year-old daughter of Blofeld trained by Jamie Ness, Chickieness won by 1 ½ lengths over Skylar’s Sister. It was three-quarters of a length back to Bosserati.

Co-owned by breeder Jagger Inc. and Morris Kernan, Chickieness has been a model of consistency. After breaking her maiden in her second career start, Chickieness finished second in the Blue Hen and Small Wonder at Delaware over the summer.

While Bosserati took the field past a :22.57 opening quarter and was challenged by Skylar’s Sister past a :46.29 half, Rodriguez raced Chickieness in third before driving by both inside the final sixteenth to run the fillies record to two wins and three seconds in five lifetime starts.

Wicked Prankster, who raced six days earlier after coming off a three-month layoff, led gate-to-wire to win Saturday’s $125,000 Turf over Street Copper.

Owned and trained by Samuel Davis, Wicked Prankster, a 4-year-old gelding by Mosler, covered the firm 1 1/8-mile course in 1:49.44 under jockey Richard Monterrey. The gelding had won at a mile over a good turf course Oct. 16 at Laurel after having last raced in July.

The gelding set fractions of :23.42, :48.28 and 1:11.91 Saturday while being pressed a bit down the backstretch and around the turn by Nick Papagiorgio and then Crabs N Beer.

“I figured a week would not hurt him [between races],” Davis said. “Instead of breezing him last week we would run him and just get ready for this race.”

Smart Angle LLP’s Fortheluvofbourbon, off at 1-2, moved three-wide entering the stretch under jockey Paco Lopez and drove to victory in the $125,000 Sprint.

A 5-year-old gelded son of Bourbon Courage, Fortheluvofbourbon covered the six furlongs in 1:10.96 and beat Karan’s Notion by 1 ½ lengths. It was a neck back to Alwaysinahurry in third.

Fortheluvofbourbon has now won 12 of 23 starts for more than $600,00 and is seven of nine on the year for trainer Michael Pino.

Heir Port broke on top in the Sprint and set an opening quarter in :22.57 and half in :45.87 while Karan’s Notion sat just outside. Entering the stretch, Fortheluvofbourbon moved three wide outside the leaders. Despite game efforts by Heir Port and Karan’s Notion, the 1-2 favorite proved too good.

Hemp, Air Token, Elusive Agent, Rominski and Katie’s Notion were scratched.

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