Absent the winners of its past five editions, Saturday's $125,000 Maryland Million Turf at Laurel Park figures to be a wide-open affair that attracted an overflow field of 16 including a trio of horses from last fall as well as the connections of one former champion.
Scheduled for one mile over the Dahlia course layout, the Turf for 3-year-olds and up is among seven stakes and four starter stakes worth $1.02 million in purses that help comprise the 34th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program.
Led by the $150,000 Classic and named for the late Hall of Fame and 13-time Emmy Award-winning broadcaster who helped launch the groundbreaking concept in 1986, the Maryland Million card gets under way at noon.
Talk Show Man denied Phlash Phelps a record third Turf victory last fall with a half-length triumph that was his second in the race, having also won in 2014. Talk Show Man, Phlash Phelps (2015, 2016) and Spartianos (2017) were all retired this summer.
Hillwood Stable and trainer Rodney Jenkins campaigned Phlash Phelps, and will be represented in this year's Turf by Outofthepark, a sophomore son of Jenkins-trained graded-stakes winner Bandbox that ran third in the 2018 Maryland Million Nursery on dirt in his second lifetime start. The winner of that race, Follow the Dog, was sired by Bandbox.
In addition to Phlash Phelps, Hillwood's Ellen Charles also won the 2014 Nursery with Golden Years, another Jenkins trainee.
“It sure would be special to do it with another one for Mrs. Charles. Let's hope so,” Jenkins said. “She wanted to run this horse. He's such a young horse. He really got it together in his maiden win. Now he'll be a maiden winner going against some good horses so you've got to be realistic, but he can run. He can run.”
Outofthepark was unable to find the winner's circle in five tries at 2, finishing third three times and wrapping up the year off the board in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity, won by Alwaysmining. As a 3-year-old he has been in the money in four of five starts, graduating in style with a 4 ½-length score going a mile on the grass under Alex Cintron, who returns to ride from Post 6. They are listed at 15-1 on the morning line.
In fact, Outofthepark has never been worse than third since being put on turf by Jenkins with a win, two seconds and a third. The exception was a fourth-place finish in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight that was taken off the grass July 18.
“He's only had the one bad race this year and otherwise he's been right there every time. And, when I stretched him out to the mile, he was a better horse yet. I think the mile suits him to a 'T,'” Jenkins said. “He's got natural speed.
“When he was sprinting, he'd always close and come up a little short going the 5 ½ [furlongs],” he added. “When I ran him long, I told [Cintron] he looks like he wants to come from out of it. Cintron rides him really well.”
Returning from last year's Turf are No Bull Addiction, Somekindofmagician, Elementary and Love You Much, who ran fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively. Bell Gable Stable's 2017 Turf runner-up Somekindofmagician will be making his third start since being claimed by trainer Jamie Ness for $25,000 in August, and second in 15 days. By Street Magician, the 5-year-old gelding was beaten a nose in a one-mile starter-optional claimer Oct. 4 at Laurel.
Street Magician is also represented by Mark Ashby's Taxable Goods, second by a neck behind English Minister in the 1 1/16-mile Find Stakes Aug. 17 at Laurel. Bred and trained by Lynn Ashby, the gelded 4-year-old exits a third-place finish in the Alphabet Soup Handicap Sept. 21 at Parx. The narrow 4-1 program favorite will have regular rider Jose A. Garcia aboard from Post 12.
Warwick Stable's Love You Much returned to sprinting following last year's Turf and compiled three wins, two seconds and two thirds from seven starts at five, 5 ½ and six furlongs on the grass. He hasn't raced since a popular neck triumph Aug. 18 at Laurel under Jorge Ruiz, who has the return call from Post 9.
“He's doing terrific,” trainer Ferris Allen said. “The whole question once again is whether he'll stretch out. We felt like last year he would and he disappointed us a little. But, he's a year older and more mature now. Of course we were happy to keep him sprinting all season because we do think that's what he does best, but we don't have that option for the Maryland Million so we're giving it a whirl. He's in good form so we'll see.”
Trainer Mike Trombetta has won eight Maryland Million races, tied for third-most all-time, but is still looking for his first in the Turf. He entered a pair of homebreds in John and Cheryl Banner's My Brothersledge and R. Larry Johnson's Street Copper.
My Brothersledge is the younger full brother of My Sistersledge, who is going for a record-tying third consecutive victory in the $125,000 Maryland Million Ladies. The Turf will be the first Million start for the 4-year-old Etched gelding.
“There's not really a ton of similarities, to tell you the truth. One's dark bay and the other one's a chestnut,” Trombetta said. “He's been running good.”
In his last two tries going a mile, My Brothersledge was fifth, beaten 1 ½ lengths, last fall and second by a half-length Sept. 7, both in entry-level allowances over the Laurel turf. Winner of a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance July 12 by a hard-fought neck, he exits a tough trip ninth Sept. 28, also at Laurel.
“The last race was a little strange. He was stuck down inside and he just didn't run his race for whatever reason. Hopefully he can turn it back around on Saturday,” Trombetta said. “He likes to be forwardly placed. I think last time he was asked to be restrained behind horses for an extended period of time and I think that just kind of took it out of him. He likes to be running along a little bit more.”
Street Copper has done his best running at Laurel, with two wins, three seconds and a third from 10 tries. He has two wins and two seconds from six starts in 2019, three of his losses coming by less than a length and the fourth by a length and a quarter.
The 4-year-old Street Magician gelding wheels back 16 days after a gutsy nose triumph in a second-level optional claiming allowance Oct. 3 at Laurel, a 1 1/16-mile race where he overcame having to check several times early.
“He's had some rough trips here the last couple races but he was good enough to still win last time. He beat open two-other-than allowance horses, so I think he's very worthy of taking a shot at this,” Trombetta said. “It's all a matter of the trip. The distance shouldn't be a problem.”
Also entered are Nicki de Nephew, Mr. d'Angelo, Redeemed Gentleman, Cannon's Roar, Last Chukker and Pretty Good Year, with Winplaceorshowono and Fear the Turtle on the also-eligible list.
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