Six stakes races exclusively for Virginia-breds make up half of the card on Saturday's 12-race program at Laurel Park. All six will be contested on the turf, weather permitting.
Colonial Downs' ownership and horsemen could not reach agreement on holding a meeting this year so the Maryland Jockey Club agreed to help keep the Virginia stakes program intact. The probability of a race meet in 2015 remains up in the air.
The Brookmeade Stakes for fillies and mares goes as race three, followed by split divisions of the Jamestown for two-year olds as races five and ten, the Oakley Stakes for fillies and mares as race seven, the Punch Line for sprinters as race nine and the Bert Allen, around two turns, as race eleven.
The purse for each stakes is $60,000 with large fields, barring scratches, expected for each test.
Embarr (2-1) heads a field of 12 in the Brookmeade, which is set for 1-1/16th miles. Forest Boyce rode Embarr to victory in the Dahlia Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in April for the second consecutive year and has been aboard for six of the mare's eight victories. The Susan Cooney homebred won the Brookmeade in 2011 and 2012.
“I try to stay out of her way and let her do her thing. She is an opinionated filly,” Boyce said. “She is somewhat tactical and doesn't have to be way far back allowing me to play it by the pace of the race. She will tell me where she wants to be.”
Embarr's rivals include the Todd Pletcher trained Lawn Party, a maiden winner who last raced at Saratoga in August, and 2012 Maryland Million Ladies champion Pagan Priestess.
“It is a competitive spot,” added Boyce. “Pagan Priestess is always tough and you can never count out Pletcher. It looks like she is an allowance horse but it is Pletcher.”
Heaven Knows What (5-2) will look to turn the tables on defending champion Lion Down by Me (9-2) in the 5-1/2 furlong Oakley. The favorite has a first and second on the turf at Pimlico this spring for trainer Mike Trombetta.
“She has had a good season,” Trombetta said. “We ran her in the Turf Amazon at Parx on September 1 knowing this race was in two weeks win, lose or draw but there are so few places to run these type of horses. She ran a credible enough race (beaten 3 ½ lengths).”
Trombetta has runners in each stakes race.
The Baltimore native will saddle Hard Enough, the 5-2 morning line favorite, in the Bert Allen Stakes. A five-time winner on the turf, including the Red Bank Stakes (G3), the son of Hard Spun was re-claimed by Trombetta for owner Larry Johnson from his most recent start at Saratoga for $25,000.
“Larry bred him and we had him early in his career before losing him at Gulfstream for $50,000 (Feb. 2013),” added Trombetta. “He got really good and once he got into the upper claiming races we started looking to claim him back.”
The Bert Allen Stakes also features Rose Brier, the 2-1 morning line favorite, and defending champion Dannhauser (8-1), who won the Laurel Turf Cup Stakes in October 2012.
The 5-1/2 furlong Punch Line drew a field of 13 runners. Joe Tess (5-2), a Derek Ryan trainee, has been second and third in his most recent stakes attempts. Daniel Centeno will ride. His closest rival, Boltin' Out (3-1), will break one post outside of him, with Horacio Karamanos riding for Carlos Garcia. Boltin' Out won the Punch Line last year when he went three-for-three on the Colonial grass.
Eighteen of the 19 runners entered into both divisions of the Jamestown are maidens. The first division is headed by 4-5 favorite Hooligan while the second is topped by first-time starter Moon River (5-2) and Max Crown (3-1), who has finished first or second in his last three starts.
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