Last December, Runnymede Racing's Alwaysmining was just establishing the form that would see him become a multiple stakes winner and earn himself a berth in the Preakness Stakes (G1).
A year later, the Maryland-bred gelding goes after his first victory since having a six-race win streak snapped in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown in Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer at Laurel Park.
The 1 1/8-mile Native Dancer for 3-year-olds and up is among five $100,000 stakes on a nine-race Christmastide Day program that includes the Dave's Friend for 3-year-olds and up and Willa On the Move for fillies and mares 3 and older, both at six furlongs.
In addition to live racing, Christmastide Day festivities include a stakes buffet, hot chocolate bar and hot cider cocktails. Laurel will open its doors at 11 a.m. First-race post time is 12:25 p.m.
Alwaysmining won the 2018 Maryland Juvenile Futurity and Heft Stakes to cap his juvenile season and opened this year with a sweep of Laurel's 3-year-old stakes – the Miracle Wood, Private Terms and Federico Tesio – the latter earning him an automatic berth in the Preakness, where he wound up 11th after looming a threat at the top of the stretch.
From there, Alwaysmining was placed third in the June 8 Easy Goer at Belmont Park and ran ninth in the July 13 Indiana Derby (G3) before getting some time off at the owner's farm in Pennsylvania and being pointed to a late fall campaign.
“He looks great. I'm very happy with how he's come off of his break, and he came back from the sprint race in great shape,” trainer Kelly Rubley said. “He had a nice breeze this weekend and we're looking forward to Saturday.”
Alwaysmining returned from nearly five months between races in the six-furlong Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial for state-bred/sired horses Dec. 7 at Laurel, pressing the pace and being passed late to be fifth, beaten two lengths. Finishing ahead of him were fellow stakes winners Lewisfield, Still Having Fun, Clubman and Taco Supream.
“He came out of the race in great shape. We used that race as a little bit of a prep for the Native Dancer,” Rubley said. “I thought he ran a great race. He was only beaten two lengths. I don't think six furlongs has ever been his distance, but it was a good spot to get a little prep in.”
Alwaysmining, based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., is seven-for-10 lifetime at Laurel. Breaking from far outside Post 7 with Julian Pimentel, aboard for the third straight race, he will carry topweight of 123 pounds.
“I think the sprint race will put us somewhat forwardly placed in this race and hopefully we'll hold off the closers,” Rubley said. “We're hoping to get back to that [winning] form.”
Sareen Family Trust's Major Cabbie, trained by California-based Peter Miller, enters the Native Dancer a week after he stumbled at the start and lost his rider in the Queens County Stakes at Aqueduct. This will be his third straight stakes attempt, having finished fifth in the Clark (G1) Nov. 29.
“He didn't do much running in New York so we're going to wheel him back,” Miller said. “He's always shown a lot of talent. He doesn't need the lead; he can sit off the pace if need be. On his best day, he's a very nice horse.”
Major Cabbie, a 4-year-old bay son of Into Mischief, pressed the pace for a half-mile as a 24-1 long shot in the Clark, also run at 1 1/8 miles and won by Tom's d'Etat. Prior to that he won back-to-back 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance races at Keeneland 19 days apart in October.
“He ran better than it looked in the Clark. He kind of had a weird trip, in between horses the whole way,” Miller said. “He didn't really send, didn't really take back; he was kind of in an uncomfortable spot, but he ran well.”
Completing the field are 2017 Maryland Million Classic winner Bonus Points, fifth last out to Sunny Ridge in the Richard W. Small Nov. 30 at Laurel; Iselin (G3) winner Monongahela, who took the Swatara Stakes by three lengths Nov. 27 at Parx; Roanoke Stakes winner and Swatara runner-up Someday Jones; Honor the Fleet and Stadium.
Jeff Drown's Home Run Maker, unraced since early June, can end his 4-year-old season the way he started it – with a stakes victory – when he makes his return in Saturday's $100,000 Dave's Friend.
Home Run Maker put together a three-race win streak, all at six furlongs and all at Laurel, beginning with an open allowance win last October. He capped his sophomore season with a similar three-quarter-length triumph in an optional claiming allowance before opening 2019 winning the Fire Plug Stakes by a half-length.
Stepped up to the General George (G3), where he ran sixth, Home Run Maker was fifth in a pair of stakes starts, the latter in the June 1 Chocolate Town Sprint at Penn National, before being sent to South Carolina for a freshening.
“We just gave him a little break over the summer. We thought that he put some races together [where] he tried every time and you could just tell he was a little knocked out,” trainer Jeremiah Englehart said. “So, we gave him a little break down at Web Carroll's training center and brought him back and he's been doing great since we brought him back.”
Home Run Maker shows a half-dozen works since mid-November at Belmont Park, including a half-mile in 47.41 seconds from the gate Dec. 15 – second-fastest of 53 horses – and a maintenance move in 51.95 Dec. 21. Home Run Maker, who owns three wins and a third from six lifetime tries at Laurel, will break from Post 7 of eight under Jorge Vargas Jr. at topweight of 122 pounds.
“We always thought that he's a horse that has a chance to be a real nice sprinter,” Englehart said. “Whether or not he makes it to the graded stakes someday, I don't know, but there's plenty of races out there for him that he'll be very competitive in.
“He's run well over the track and the distance suits him well, so it's a good spot for him to come back,” he added. “Right now, he seems like all systems go. I can't wait to get him back over there.”
Matthew Schera's Isotherm, a two-time graded-stakes winner on turf, cuts back to a sprint for just the third time in his 28th career start and first since running third in the San Simeon (G3) on turf in April 2018 for previous trainer Phil D'Amato. Now stabled with James 'Chuck' Lawrence at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., the 6-year-old finished fifth in a pair of 1 1/16-mile stakes since moving east, the Autumn (G2) over Woodbine's all-weather surface and the Swatara Stakes Nov. 27 at Penn National last out.
“The one time he sprinted out in California, he made a nice closing move,” Lawrence said. “I talked it over with Matt and we want to try it.”
Rockingham Ranch's Threefiveindia is another horse that recently changed hands, claimed for $40,000 out of third-place finish at Los Alamitos Sept. 19 by trainer Peter Miller. The 6-year-old gelding has won both his starts since then in optional claiming allowance company, going seven-furlongs Nov. 1 at Santa Anita and by 3 ½ lengths in front-running fashion Nov. 14 at Del Mar at the Dave's Friend distance.
Over his career, Threefiveindia has raced in eight graded-stakes and placed three times, twice in 2016 and most recently in the 2017 Fall Highweight (G3) at Aqueduct. Trevor McCarthy has the call from Post 5 at 120 pounds.
“We claimed him a couple starts back and he's run well for us [both] times, so we're hoping that he transfers that form to Laurel,” Miller said. “He's a very nice, old, classy horse and he's definitely gotten back into his old form.”
Multiple stakes-winning sprinter Clubman, 2018 Danzig Stakes winner Smooth B, Arch Cat, Fiber and Emily and Won and Done round out the field.
Hillwood Stable and Richard Golden's stakes winner Majestic Reason, worse than third just once in 11 lifetime starts, has a chance to build on her past success at Laurel Park in the $100,000 Willa On the Move.
Second in the Dec. 7 Politely, where Anna's Bandit earned her sixth consecutive victory and 10th overall in a stakes, Majestic Reason returns to a surface where she has three wins, four seconds and a third in eight career tries.
“She's been very consistent. She ran the one disappointing race at Aqueduct where she just didn't appear to handle the track; it was the first really bad race she's ever run, to be honest,” trainer Graham Motion said. “Then she bounced back and ran well at Laurel. She really likes Laurel.
“I hadn't necessarily planned on this race but she's doing well and I feel like it's too good an opportunity to pass up,” he added. “She's so consistent. I really like this filly.”
Majestic Reason was only beaten a length by Anna's Bandit in the six-furlong Politely, coming with a late rally between horses to get second by a head. Winner of the 2018 Miss Disco Stakes at Laurel, the 4-year-old daughter of Majestic Warrior was third in the Sept. 22 Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont Park behind multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Come Dancing and Minit to Stardom, a winner of eight of 13 races including the Honorable Miss (G2) July 24 at Saratoga and a six-furlong Laurel allowance Nov. 8.
Between the Gallant Bloom and Politely, Majestic Reason was a dull fifth as the second betting choice in the seven-furlong Pumpkin Pie Stakes Nov. 9 at Aqueduct, just a nose out of sixth.
“She ran in the graded stake at Belmont in the fall and she ran well there considering the company,” Motion said. “The only head-scratcher was really the Aqueduct race, but that track's been very deep and I just don't think she cared for it.”
Neal Allread's Baby Boss, a 4-year-old Frost Giant filly, was a fitting winner of the Arctic Queen Stakes against fellow New York-breds Sept. 30 at Finger Lakes before returning to open company in the Nov. 8 allowance where she ran third behind Minit to Stardom, beaten 2 ¾ lengths.
“I thought she ran well in that race. It looked like she wasn't going to get anything and then she fought back to be second again, so hopefully she can run back to that number,” trainer Jeremiah Englehart said. “She's a filly that really likes the surface there. We're pretty sure she'll like the distance. This seems like the right spot for her at the right time.”
Baby Boss has raced three times at Laurel with two wins and a second. Jorge Vargas Jr. rides from the rail post.
“The distance hits her right between the eyes,” Englehart said. “She seems like she gets off to a good start and she's fast, so we don't try to take that away from her.”
Robert Manfuso, trainer Katharine Voss and Wayne Harrison's 3-year-old filly Las Setas enters the Willa On the Move off a fifth-place effort in the Politely, her first race in nearly seven months and first against older horses, beaten only three lengths. She began 2019 with four straight wins, including the Wide Country, Beyond the Wire and Weber City Miss Stakes. The latter earned her an automatic berth to the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) May 17, where she ran seventh.
Also entered are stakes winners Last True Love and Wildcat Combat; 2018 Alcibiades (G1) runner-up Reflect; Chiefs Kingdom, a winner of three straight 4 ½-furlong sprints at Charles Town; Angel At War, Cause I'm Edgy, Mess'n Around and Phantom Shot.
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