Shirley Lojeski's Forest Fire was the beneficiary of a dream trip under Paco Lopez in Saturday's $150,000 Maryland Million Classic to collect his first stakes victory in the 1 1/8-mile stakes for Maryland-sired 3-year-olds and up.
The Classic was the feature on the 34th Jim McKay Maryland Million program at Laurel Park that offered 11 stakes worth $1.02 million in purses.
Forest Fire, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Maryland sire Friesan Fire, settled outside pacesetter Prendimi around the first turn and along the backstretch, rating comfortably under Lopez past fractions of 34.49 and 49.25 seconds for the first half-mile. The John Servis-trained 4-year-old gelding put the pressure on Prendimi leaving the turn into the homestretch and steadily wore down the game pacesetter by a half-length.
“John told me, 'Paco, put the horse right there. You have a very good post so if somebody wants to go crazy, let them go and you can sit second or third.' I just wanted to see how the race played out,” Lopez said. “I had great position and the pace was good, and turning for home he was just going easy and was able to hold off that horse.”
The Parx-based Forest Fire ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.42 to win his third straight race and notch his seventh success in 13 career starts. Pendimi, a New Jersey bred son of Maryland stallion Dance With Ravens, finished 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Tappin Cat.
Forest Fire had raced twice previously at Laurel, where he won a Feb. 16, 2018 optional claiming allowance race before finishing second behind V.I. P. Code in the $100,000 Private Terms in his next start. He came into the Classic off pair of option claiming allowance victories at Parx.
Lopez collected his first Maryland Million victory while riding Forest Fire for the first time.
Servis, who trained 2004 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) champion Smarty Jones, notched his first Maryland Million win Saturday.
Forest Fire's sire Friesan Fire also sired the 2018 Maryland Million Classic winner Saratoga Bob, who finished off the board Saturday.
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