Country Life Farm's 5-year-old Flash McCaul, stakes placed at 2 and 3, will look to recapture his solid early form as he takes aim at the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic for a third consecutive year Saturday at Laurel Park.
Run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track, the Classic for 3-year-olds and up serves as the highlight of the 33rd annual Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program, one of seven stakes and four starter stakes that help comprise 'Maryland's Day at the Races,' named for the late Hall of Fame broadcaster who helped launch the groundbreaking concept in 1986.
Post time for the first of 12 races is noon. Among the Maryland Million festivities this year is the inaugural Clubhouse Festival headlined by Grammy nominated musical artists Deadmau5 and Steve Aoki.
A total of 151 horses were entered on the program, an average of 12.6 per race. Five races are scheduled for Laurel's world-class turf course, attracting 62 entries, an average of 12.4 per race.
Carded as Race 11, the Classic attracted a competitive field of 10 Maryland Million-certified horses and three Maryland-bred also-eligibles led by defending champion and 7-5 program favorite Bonus Points. The AE horses can only draw into the race if the main body falls below six Maryland Million-certified horses.
Flash McCaul drew Post 4 and was assigned morning-line odds of 6-1 during Wednesday's live post-position draw for the Classic at TIPS Restaurant in Laurel's second-floor clubhouse. The post time favorite is likely to be Wayne Harrison, Robert Manfuso and Katie Voss' Saratoga Bob, fifth most recently in the one-mile off-the-turf Find Sept. 29 at Laurel, his stakes debut and the first time he had been worse than third in eight career starts. He is fourth choice overall at 3-1.
Bred by Country Life Farm, Friesan Fire Syndicate and Mary and Clifton Cornwell and trained by seven-time Maryland Million winner Mike Trombetta, Flash McCaul – like Saratoga Bob – is by multiple graded-stakes winner Friesan Fire. His grandsire is Cryptoclearance, the Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up and Preakness (G1) third-place finisher in 1987 and a four-time Grade 1 winner and earner of more than $3.3 million.
Flash McCaul has won at least once in each of his first three racing seasons and has bankrolled $212,121 in career purses, but is 0-for-2 in 2018 and still seeking his first career stakes victory. He raced twice in 23 days last month after going more than eight months between starts, returning to be fifth in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Sept. 6 at Delaware Park.
In his most recent start, Flash McCaul was outrun early and never threatened finishing seventh in the seven-furlong Challedon Stakes Sept. 29 at Laurel. He is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
“I used that as basically a vehicle to try and get here. There's so few choices of where you can run these kinds of horses because they're not turf, and [it's hard] to find a dirt race that will suit them, so that was what I kind of came up with,” Trombetta said. “I liked the spacing of it. Hopefully he got enough out of his first two races this year to serve him well for this one.”
Flash McCaul got bumped and squeezed at the start of last year's Classic and raced near the back of the pack before making a belated run to win up sixth, beaten 6 ¼ lengths by Bonus Points but 6 ¾ lengths ahead of John Jones, a multiple stakes winner and the post time favorite. Like Bonus Points, John Jones is a Maryland-bred but not Maryland Million certified.
“He ran well in this race last year and didn't get beat that far in a race that was opened up to non-sired horses,” Trombetta said. “That's not the case this year so it ought to be not quite as difficult.”
Flash McCaul debuted with a maiden claiming win in September 2015 at Laurel and ran second in four subsequent starts to cap his juvenile campaign, including the Maryland Million Nursery and Maryland Juvenile Championship, the latter by a head.
His sophomore season also opened on a successful note with a February 2016 optional claiming allowance win before Flash McCaul was a decisive second in the Private Terms and fourth following a troubled trip in the Federico Tesio. He ended the year with four top three finishes from 10 starts and was fifth in the Maryland Million Classic.
“He can run. He's always been a nice horse for us. He's been fun. He's always done his job,” Trombetta said. “He's like any other horse. He had a few things where he needed a break away from the action for a while, but he's trained good to this point so we'll see what Saturday holds.”
Trevor McCarthy, Maryland's overall riding champion in 2014 and 2016 who recently returned to the colony full-time after a sojourn to New York, has the call.
Also returning from last year's Classic is Gladys Martinez's Clubman. The 4-year-old Not For Love gelding was unhurried racing near the back of the field for six furlongs until being tipped out for a run through the stretch that saw him finish fourth, beaten 5 ½ lengths to snap a three-race win streak.
“He's doing great,” trainer Jonathan Maldonado said. “He worked the other day in 1:01 in hand and galloped out really comfortable. He's training really, really good and I expect a big race on Saturday from him.”
Clubman ended last year off the board in the Jennings Stakes Dec. 30 at Laurel, and didn't make his seasonal debut until July 27 in a second-level optional claiming allowance at Laurel. After two disappointing efforts, Clubman has finished third and second in his past two outings, beaten at the wire after taking a three-length lead into the stretch Sept. 16 going one mile.
Sheldon Russell, aboard for each of the past two starts, will ride back from Post 3. Clubman is 9-2 on the morning line.
“To prepare a horse for [the Classic] is tough but this horse is easy to train,” Maldonado said. “After the Maryland Million I ran him in the Claiming Crown and after that we gave him a break and he came back. He had a few races where I expected him to run better but the last two races he's run like I expected. I expect a big one this time. He's doing awesome.”
Leon Blusiewicz's Admiral Blue is the only horse in the Classic field outside of Bonus Points to win at 1 1/8 miles, taking an entry-level allowance Feb. 1 at Aqueduct in his second start as a 5-year-old. Based in New York with trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who also entered also-eligible Hammerin Aamer, Admiral Blue has raced once before at Laurel, finishing fourth behind multiple graded-stakes winner Something Awesome in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial March 17.
Admiral Blue, 7-2 on the morning line, and jockey Luis Reyes will break from Post 9.
Also entered are Maryland Million-certified Crouchelli; Dothat Dance, fifth by a half-length in last year's Maryland Million Turf; Goodluckjohnathan, Legend's Hope, Pal Cal and Tattooed. Belfour, third in the Find Stakes, is the third Maryland-bred also-eligible.
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