From a Maryland Jockey Club release
It took every inch of the one-mile Edward P. Evans Stakes for Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s Special Envoy to earn some long-deserved black type. Six weeks later he returns to Laurel Park aiming for his second straight stakes victory in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes.
Joining Special Envoy in seeking to repeat in a Virginia-bred route stake will be the four-year-old Queen Caroline, who won the Nellie Mae Cox June 24 and is entered in Saturday’s William M. Backer Stakes.
The 1 1/16-mile Hansel for 3-year-olds and up is one of four stakes restricted to Virginia-bred/sired horses to be contested over Laurel’s world-class turf course on an 11-race program that begins at 1:10 p.m. and includes the $75,000 William M. Backer at 1 1/16 miles, as well as the $75,000 Camptown and $75,000 Meadow Stable, each at 5 ½ furlongs.
Special Envoy, trained by Fair Hill-based Arnaud Delacour, will benefit from both the added distance and the absence of recently retired multiple stakes winner Rose Brier, who the 6-year-old Stroll gelding edged by a nose in the June 24 Evans. It was a reverse of the 2016 finish, when Rose Brier got the best of his rival by a length.
“He’s always been very competitive. That showed that he’s still competitive at this level. Obviously Rose Brier is retired so that is one less tough customer to worry about,” Delacour said. “He’s an easy keeper. He’s kind of a chubby horse and we just have to keep him fit, but he’s doing well and we’re very happy with him.”
Special Envoy does his best running near or on the lead, and Delacour expects to see him in a similar spot in the Hansel, where he will be ridden by Daniel Centeno at topweight of 120 pounds from the rail in a field of seven.
“Everything depends on the pace. I didn’t think the last time the pace was too fast but I would say he likes to be right there,” Delacour said. “Depending on the pace scenario I’d like to see him close or in front.
“I always thought that his best distance was a mile and an eighth,” he added. “It worked out the last time going a mile but I don’t mind the added distance. I wouldn’t mind even if it was longer. I’m very comfortable with that.”
Also returning from the Edward Evans are Speed Gracer and Jump Ship, who ran third and fourth, respectively, separated by two lengths. Speed Gracer enters the Hansel without a race since while Jump Ship was third by two lengths in a 1 1/16-mile starter optional claimer July 9 at Laurel.
Dream of Peace, Mr. Magician, Titan Alexander and Virginia Royal are also entered.
The Hansel goes as race four on the 11-race program.
Six races later, Amy Moore’s Queen Caroline returns to Laurel hoping to regain her winning form as the horse to beat in the $75,000 William M. Backer for fillies and mares 3 and up.
A 4-year-old daughter of Blame, Queen Caroline was a comfortable front-running winner of the one-mile Nellie Mae Cox June 24, her first victory since the second of back-to-back stakes triumphs last fall at Indiana Grand.
Back in against open company for her most recent start, Queen Caroline stalked the pace for a half-mile but failed to respond at the quarter pole and ran a flat fifth in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff, beaten 5 ½ lengths. She comes back on three weeks’ rest for the Backer.
“I don’t think it’ll be a concern, or we wouldn’t be doing it,” trainer Michael Matz said. “I don’t know what happened the last race. It wasn’t typically her. I don’t know if it was the ship out or the change of rider. Maybe she wasn’t good enough. This is probably a little easier spot and we’ll just see where she goes from there. Hopefully it’ll give her her confidence back.”
Queen Caroline will meet a familiar cast in the Backer with seven other horses exiting the Nellie Mae Cox including runner-up Armoire, third-place finisher Complete St. and Secret Or Not, who ran fourth. Armoire and Well Blessed, a winner of her last two races at Delaware Park, are both Firestone homebreds trained by Delacour.
Sweet Sandy, Andrasta, Street Miz and Grace Is Ready, sixth through ninth, respectively, in the Nellie Mae Cox, complete the field. Since the stakes Street Miz came back to win a one-mile claiming event July 9 at Laurel and Sweet Sandy was second in an entry-level allowance July 10 at Delaware.