Close Finishes Highlight Virginia Day At Laurel Park August 5th

The following is from a Laurel Park news release

LAUREL, MD – Despite a slow break and a surface that had not previously been to his liking, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s homebred Special Envoy put on a special performance Saturday at Laurel Park, going all the way on the lead to win the $75,000 Hansel by 8 ¼ lengths.

Special Envoy dominated in gate to wire fashion in the $75,000 Hansel Stakes August 5th at Laurel. Photo by Jim McCue.
The 1 1/16-mile Hansel for 3-year-olds and up over Laurel’s world-class turf course was the first of four grass stakes restricted to Virginina-bred/sired horses worth $300,000 in purses on the 11-race program. It was joined by the $75,000 William M. Backer, also at 1 1/16 miles, and the $75,000 Meadow Stable and $75,000 Camptown, each at 5 ½ furlongs.
It was the second straight win, both in stakes, for the Arnaud Delacour-trained Special Envoy ($2.10), following the Edward P. Evans against fellow state-breds June 24 at Laurel. The 6-year-old gelded son of Stroll completed the distance in 1:46.59 over an Exceller Turf Course layout listed as yielding.
Special Envoy & jockey Daniel Centeno after the Hansel victory August 5th. Photo by Jim McCue.
 “He’s coming along at the right time. He’s always been a nice horse but timing is everything. I think we got it right this year,” Delacour said. “He hasn’t really performed as well [on soft turf] as he did on the firm in the past but he did pretty good today. I think the turf is in very good shape, anyway, maybe a little bit on the soft side because the times are slow, but there’s plenty of grass on top.”
Heavily favored at 1-9, Special Envoy cruised to the front from his rail post with some urging from regular rider Daniel Centeno, then settled on the lead through an easy quarter-mile in 25.33 seconds and a half in 49.99 with mild pressure from Titan Alexander.
Special  Envoy began to edge away from his rivals as they approached the far turn and opened up once straightened for home under a hand ride by Centeno. Mr. Magician came on for second at odds of 25-1, 2 ½ lengths ahead of Speed Gracer. It was another neck back to Jump Ship, followed by Titan Alexander.
“It was a short field today with not much speed,” Centeno said. “The plan was just get close to the lead and go from there. He broke a little slow and I put him in the race, and after that it was over.”
Delacour said he would point Special Envoy to the $60,000 Bert Allen for Virginia-bred/sired horses Saturday, Sept. 30 at Laurel.
“I think it would make a lot of sense if the horse is right,” he said.
Sweet Sandy Springs Upset in $75,000 William M. Backer
Fig Tree Farm’s Sweet Sandy went last to first to pass even-money favorite Queen Caroline and catch Armoire near the finish to give trainer Danielle Hodson her first career stakes victory in the $75,000 William M. Backer for fillies and mares 3 and up.
Sent off at 13-1, Sweet Sandy ($29.80) and jockey Jevian Toledo completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.90 over a yielding Bowl Game Turf Course, winning for the first time in five starts since being claimed for $20,000 last fall at Suffolk Downs.
Sweet Sandy edged Armoire in the inaugural William Backer Stakes August 5th at Laurel. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
 “She’s just a lovely filly to deal with. She’s just all heart,” Hodson, a successful former steeplechase jockey, said. “We were more worried about the distance than the company but I said to just try and get her running a little bit earlier. Obviously with Queen Caroline and the others it was a tough enough group, but she got there today.”
Grace Is Ready, at 21-1, was an eager front-runner going in 24.26 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.10 for the half, tracked intently to her outside by Queen Caroline, whose multiple stakes wins include the Nellie Mae Cox against state-breds June 24 at Laurel.
After six furlongs in 1:13.11 Grace Is Ready was still in command with Queen Caroline poised to strike, but it was Armoire who made a bold move to the inside to take the lead entering the stretch. Armoire, second to Queen Caroline in the Nellie Mae Cox, opened up in the lane but could not withstand the furious rally on the outside from Sweet Sandy, who was unhurried racing last of eight in the early going before embarking on her dramatic late run to get up by a neck.
Armoire was a clear second, 4 ¾ lengths ahead of Queen Caroline. Street Miz, Andrasta, Complete St., Grace Is Ready and Secret Or Not rounded out the field.
“By the eighth pole I didn’t think I was going to get there on time but by the sixteenth pole she just gave me everything she had and came flying and said, ‘I got it,’” Toledo said. “She’s a really nice filly. She relaxed pretty good in the beginning and when I asked her she gave me everything she had.”
10-Year-Old Two Notch Road Takes $75,000 Meadow Stable
Still going strong at the age of 10, Two Notch Road earned his sixth career stakes victory and fourth in Maryland by wearing down favored Tiz Our Time through the stretch to get his head in front at the wire in the $75,000 Meadow Stable for 3-year-old and up.
Making the third start since running fifth in the White Oak Farm June 24 at Laurel in his seasonal debut, Two Notch Road ($10.60) ran 5 ½ furlongs in 1:05.17 over a yielding Bowl Game layout. The $45,000 winner’s share of the purse pushed his career earnings to $519,563 from 36 starts.
Ten-year-old Two Notch Road (#1) captured the Meadow Stables Stakes over Tiz Our Time. Photo by Jim McCue.
 “He’s a special horse. He is a very special horse,” winning trainer and co-owner Glenn Thompson said. “The reason he lasts so long is because we give him the winters off. They used to do that all the time with horses in the past. It’s not because they run on the turf, it’s because turf horses get a break.”
Jockey Alex Cintron and Two Notch Road were content to settle in fifth saving ground while Tiz Our Time, front-running winner of the White Oak Farm, broke fastest from his far outside post and ran the first quarter in 22.72 seconds and the half in 46.35.
Cintron began to get into Two Notch Road as they rounded the far turn and swung to the far outside straightening for home, steadily gaining ground down the center of the track as Tiz Our Time desperately tried to maintain the lead. Stakes winner Lime House Louie rallied from far back for third, 4 ¼ lengths behind.
“Coming around the turn I felt like I was going to get there and turning for home I saw the other horse way in front of me,” Cintron said. “I just let my horse do his thing and he made up ground easily and at the first wire I knew we were going to get him.”
Thompson said he expects to bring Two Notch Road back in the $60,000 Punch Line for 3-year-olds and up at 5 ½ furlongs Sept. 30 at Laurel. Two Notch Road won the Punch Line in 2014 and 2015 and was third last year. He also won the White Oak Farm in 2016.
Northern Eclipse Holds Off Ring Knocker in $75,000 Camptown
Toby Roth’s Northern Eclipse, unable to hold on to the lead in his last stakes attempt, had no such trouble putting away similar rivals to earn his second straight win in the $75,000 Camptown for fillies and mares 3 and up.
It was the third win from six starts and first in a stakes since being claimed by Roth for $16,000 out of a maiden win last fall at Laurel. The winning time for 5 ½ furlongs was 1:05.69 over a yielding Bowl Game layout.
Northern Eclipse held off Ring Knocker to capture the inaugural Camptown Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue.
“When you have the best jockey and the best horse, you can always win a race,” Roth said. “When we got this horse we gave this horse the winter off and got her ready for these races. It’s how you take care of the horse that counts.”
Northern Eclipse ($6.60) broke sharply from the far outside and jockey J.D. Acosta opted to keep the 5-year-old Northern Afleet mare in the clear and in front, setting fractions of 23.18 and 46.81 seconds. They were able to turn back a bid from Awake the Day along the inside and had enough left to hold off late-running Ring Knocker to win by a neck.
Do What I Say, who rallied from far back to beat tiring pacesetter Northern Eclipse in the M. Tyson Gilpin June 24 at Laurel, was third. Awake the Day, Up Hill Battle, Weekend and Sister Says, second in the Gilpin by a head over Ring Knocker.
“[Trainer Hugh McMahon] gave me the instructions this morning and was like, ‘Let somebody else go in front,’” Acosta said, “but I was really quick leaving the gate. As soon as they open the gate I was in front and I was like, ‘How can I take this horse back?’ We went in 23 and felt like I was walking. It’s only 5 ½ and I didn’t want to take a chance and fight him to let someone else go, so I just decided to stay wide a little bit and set the pace and slow it down as much as I can.”