LAUREL, MD – Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s homebred Special Envoy, who capped last season with three consecutive stakes victories, is set to launch his 7-year-old season against familiar company in Saturday’s $75,000 Edward Evans Stakes at Laurel Park.
The one-mile Edward Evans is among four $75,000 stakes restricted to Virginia-bred/sired horses 3 years old and up over Laurel’s world-class turf course that help comprise the 11-race program. It is joined by the Nellie Mae Cox at one mile and M. Tyson Gilpin at 5 ½ furlongs, each for fillies and mares, and the 5 ½-furlong White Oak Farm.
First race post time is 1:10 p.m.
Special Envoy, trained by Fair Hill, Md.-based Arnaud Delacour, was a comfortable 1 ½-length winner of last year’s Evans to begin a sweep of Laurel’s trio of Virginia-bred/sired stakes that included the Hansel and Bert Allen, both at 1 1/16 miles.
Since the Bert Allen Sept. 30, Special Envoy was given the winter off before being brought back to prepare for his 2018 campaign at Fair Hill, where he shows a steady string of seven works dating back to late April, the most recent being a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.20 June 15.
“We’ve done that for the last couple of years with him and it seems to be working. He always comes back fresh and I think he likes to run like that,” Delacour said. “If we go all year round with him we would probably have to give him a break right in the middle of the summer, which isn’t really the point.
“The point is to get him ready for the beginning of the season, especially the Virginia-bred stakes which are fitting for a horse like him,” he added. “He runs well, he’s consistent and those three races mean a lot. If you run well in those three, that pretty much makes a year. It was important that we gave him a little break.”
Jockey Daniel Centeno, aboard for all three stakes wins last year, gets the return call from Post 3 on Special Envoy, runner-up in the 2015 Bert Allen and 2016 Evans who also ran second in the 2015 Cliff Hanger (G3). All horses will carry 118 pounds.
“He should be good in there. I’m very happy with him,” Delacour said. “He’s run well anywhere between a mile and a mile and an eighth, really. He’s a little bit better on firm turf. Last year he won [the Hansel by 8 ¼ lengths] on the soft turf but I think it was because he was the best horse in that spot; it’s not really his best footing. He’s more efficient on firm turf.”
Quest Realty’s Speed Gracer, third in the Evans and Hansel and second in the Bert Allen last year, and Mr. Magician, second in the Hansel by 2 ½ lengths over Speed Gracer, are entered to return for another try against Special Envoy.
Speed Gracer, a gelded 4-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid, opened his season running second in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance April 22 at Laurel. Mr. Magician has run twice this year, finishing off the board in a pair of starter optional claimers, the latter May 25 at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
Carbon Data, racing first off the claim for trainer Mary Eppler; Officer’s Oath, fifth in last year’s Evans; River Deep, four-for-six lifetime at Laurel; New York shipper Sticksstatelydude, winner of the 2016 Discovery (G3) on dirt; and Trustifarian complete the field.
Queen Caroline Seeks to Regain Crown in $75,000 Nellie Mae Cox
Amy Moore’s multiple stakes winner Queen Caroline, unraced since testing graded-stakes company last fall, looks to return to her winning ways against fellow state-breds in the $75,000 Nellie Mae Cox.
A 5-year-old daughter of Grade 1 winner Blame, Queen Caroline won twice in eight 2017 starts, both Virginia-bred/sired stakes at Laurel. She took the Nellie Mae Cox by 1 ¼ lengths in front-running fashion, and returned to win by the same margin in the fall’s Brookmeade Stakes.
In between, the Michael Matz trainee finished third as the favorite in the William M. Backer Stakes over a yielding course at Laurel and was second in the Steve Pini Memorial at Suffolk Downs, capping her campaign running ninth in the 1 1/16-mile Athenia (G3) Oct. 28 at Belmont Park.
“She’s doing well. I wish we would have had a race before but none of the allowance races went, but she’s doing great,” Matz said. “She’s ready to run. We’ll see if she needed a race or not, but I think she’ll do well.”
Queen Caroline had two starts going into last year’s Nellie Mae Cox, including a fourth in the Stella Artois Gallorette (G3) at Pimlico. She has breezed six times since April 30 at Fair Hill for her return.
“She was ready to run a month ago. She’s ready to go. We were trying to get a prep race into her before but none of the races went so this is where we’re starting,” Matz said. “She’s pretty fresh right now. But, she’s an older mare and she knows what she’s doing so I don’t think it should be a problem.”
Alex Cintron, up for last year’s Nellie Mae Cox victory, rides again from Post 4 in the seven-horse field.
Among Queen Caroline’s rivals will be the first three horses that finished behind her last year – Armoire, Complete St. and Secret Or Not. Armoire ran second in all three Virginia-bred/sired stakes in 2017, beaten less than three lengths combined, and is unraced since the Brookmeade.
Complete St., winner of the 2015 Brookmeade, has gone winless in her last 13 starts but was second in the 2016 Brookmeade and 1 ¼ lengths behind runner-up Armoire in last year’s Nellie Mae Cox. Secret Or Not is 0-for-2 this year, most recently third in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claiming allowance May 31 at Delaware Park.
Also entered are Armoire’s stablemate Well Blessed, making her stakes debut; 120-pound topweight Drop Dead Red, winner of the off-the-turf Politely Stakes May 19 at Monmouth Park; and Zenbennie.
11-Year-Old Two Notch Road Returns in $75,000 White Oak Farm
Two Notch Road, a stakes winner in five of his seven racing seasons, looks to carry that streak into his 11-year-old year in the $75,000 White Oak Farm.
The White Oak Farm will be the 41st career start and third this year for Two Notch Road, bred by James Hackman, who co-owns the Partner’s Hero gelding with trainer Glenn Thompson. Four of his seven lifetime victories have come in Virginia-bred stakes, all run in Maryland, most recently in the Meadow Stable Stakes last August, also his latest win.
“I feel good about the race. There are some tough horses in there,” Thompson said. “I feel good about the way he’s coming into the race. I’m happy with him.”
Two Notch Road, a winner of $522,163 in purse earnings during his career, began this year in a pair of optional claiming allowances, finishing sixth in his 11-year-old debut April 29 at Laurel and fourth in race taken off the turf May 28 at Monmouth Park. It was only the fourth time he had raced on dirt and first since his 2-year-old season.
“When they took it off the turf, he had had some decent breezes on the dirt so I wasn’t really concerned about him running on it. Normally I would have scratched him, but because of the way it fit in with the Virginia-bred races I went ahead and let him go out there and run a little bit,” Thompson said. “I felt good about his performance. He was climbing; I think he was in shock. He was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ But, I think it was a decent performance and I think it will tighten him up so I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Wildcard Stable’s Lime House Louie, third in last year’s White Oak Farm and Meadow Stable, is among eight rivals set to line up against Two Notch Road, along with 2016 Punch Line Stakes runner-up Available; Charles Town-based Braxton, a winner of five of nine lifetime starts including three of five this year; Determined Vision, Fly E Dubai, Hatteras Bound and Tiz Unbeatable.
Do What I Say Set for Title Defense in $75,000 M. Tyson Gilpin
R. Larry Johnson homebred Do What I Say will break from the far outside post in a field of eight as she looks to defend her 12-1 upset last year in the $75,000 M. Tyson Gilpin.
Do What I Say, a 5-year-old daughter of Street Magician, earned her first career stakes victory in last year’s Gilpin, a race where she was steadied and lost ground but rallied from well back to win by a length.
The Gilpin will be just the second start this year for Mike Trombetta-trained Do What I Say, a rallying second in a 5 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance May 5 at Laurel, where she has a record of 2-2-2 from seven career races. Julian Pimentel rode last time and will be up again at 118 pounds.
From the barn of trainer Hugh McMahon are the experienced pair of Northern Eclipse and Up Hill Battle, who have combined to win 13 of 49 starts and $389,972 in purse earnings. Toby Roth’s Northern Eclipse, 6, won the Camptown Stakes and was second in the Oakley Stakes last summer and fall at Laurel, while Dan Limongelli’s Up Hill Battle, 5, is seeking her first turf win having run third in the Oakley and Politely Stakes last year and fourth in the Conniver Stakes on dirt March 17.
Altamura, Dixie Dazzle, Sister Says, Virginia Fable and What the Beep round out the field.