Thomas McClay's Prince of Hempt, racing for the first time outside of his native Pennsylvania for his stakes debut, kept his perfect record intact by rallying along the inside in deep stretch to upset Saturday's $100,000 City of Laurel on Ben's Cat Day at Laurel Park.
The seven-furlong City of Laurel for 3-year-olds was the third of six stakes worth $575,000 in purses on an 11-race program that included a tribute to the life and career of late Mid-Atlantic legend Ben's Cat, who died this summer at the age of 11.
Ridden by Dana Whitney for trainer Tim Kreiser, Prince of Hempt ($12.80) finished up in 1:22.67 over a fast main track, a length ahead of Grade 3-placed Tale of Silence, who edged multiple stakes winner Sonic Mule by a head. It was two lengths back to stakes winner No Dozing in fourth.
MMG Stables' multiple Grade 3 winner El Areeb, coming off a knee injury that left him unraced since March 4, contested the early lead under jockey Jevian Toledo before fading to sixth in a field of eight completed by Grade 3-placed Honor the Fleet, the 2-1 favorite.
The City of Laurel marked the fourth straight victory for Prince of Hempt, a gelded bay son of Grade 1 winner Majestic Warrior that captured his previous three starts at Parx by 16 ¾ combined lengths.
“It's yet to be seen [how good he is], I guess. He's passed every test and has trained good,” Kreiser said. “He's a big, strong horse. We thought we had a good one. He's been training forwardly. We haven't looked ahead yet. We're taking it one step at a time.”
Sonic Mule took the field through a quarter-mile in 22.67 seconds until passed by Honor the Fleet after a half in 45.44 with Prince of Hempt keeping pace between rivals and El Areeb sharp toward the front along the rail.
Once straightened for home, Whitney steered Prince of Hempt between rivals and swung inside of Indian Lover past the eighth pole, bearing down on front-running Sonic Mule in the final sixteenth to edge clear as Tale of Silence ran down Sonic Mule behind him for the place.
El Areeb put together a four-race win streak including the Jerome (G3) and Withers (G3) to open 2017 and rank him among the country's leading 3-year-olds before an injury knocked him from the Triple Crown trail. Following surgery and rehabilitation, he returned to trainer Cal Lynch's Laurel barn in early September and has been working steadily for his comeback.
“We knew when the draw came out that we were in trouble with the two hole. We were afraid he was going to be a little sharp so that's why we said the seven-eighths was going to be a little tricky distance,” Lynch said. “But it went well, he came back in good shape. Jevian said he felt great coming back and that was my concern today. We wanted to get him back to the races and get a race into him.
“I could have worked him four or five more times and had him a little tighter for this, but there's nothing like racing,” he added. “We were just coming off seven or eight months or whatever it is; it feels like a lifetime. I'm just glad he's back. He didn't run as good as we kind of hoped but I think he'll be fine. As long as he comes back good he'll be all right. There will be something toward the end of the year, I'm sure, but we'll just make sure he comes out of this one right.”
Berned Earns First Stakes Win in $100,000 Safely Kept
Graded-stakes placed Berned, trained by Graham Motion and ridden by Feargal Lynch, drove down the middle of the stretch to win the $100,000 Safely Kept.
Owned by Three C Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds and Robert Masiello, Berned, a 3-year-old filly by Bernardini, won by 4 ¼ lengths over Your Love. Multiple stakes winner Shimmering Aspen was third. The winner covered seven furlongs in 1:22.54.
Berned, who finished second last November in the Tempted (G3) and was fourth last time out in the Charles Town Oaks (G3), broke well under Lynch and was allowed to settle down the backstretch off a :23.10 and :46.17 pace set by Astrollinthepark and Moonlit Song. But around the turn Lynch turned Berned loose and she drove past the leaders down the stretch.
“Last time she was beaten only a length and a half, but she galloped out really good,” said Lynch, who added the longer stretch at Laurel allowed Berned a better opportunity.
A winner of three of 10 starts, Berned returned $18.20.
A Different Style Captures $100,000 James F. Lewis III
A Different Style, who broke his maiden at second asking a month ago at Parx, led from start to finish to win the $100,000 James F. Lewis by 2 ¾ lengths over 2-5 favorite Kowboy Karma. Belmont Futurity (G3) runner-up Barry Lee was third.
Breaking on top out of the gate, jockey John Bisono allowed A Different Style to settle on the front while setting comfortable fractions of :23.11 and :46.60. When Barry Lee took a run at him around the turn, A Different Style had plenty left.
“I was just playing it by ear,” said Bisono of his strategy before the race. “When he took an easy lead, I just let him enjoy himself.”
Kowboy Karma, who finished fourth in the Champagne (G1) last time out before a field that included eventual Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic, closed from last but couldn't get to the winner.
'Paula' Takes Charge in $100,000 Smart Halo
Bruce Tallisman's stakes winner Take Charge Paula forged a short lead in mid-stretch, gained some separation approaching the wire and held off late-running Caught Dream'n by a head in the $100,000 Smart Halo.
Take Charge Paula and jockey Paco Lopez broke on top but quickly settled behind front-running long shots Vertrazzo and Tarawa as they led through a quarter-mile in 22.33 seconds. Take Charge Paula ranged up on the outside as Vertrazzo drifted inward approaching the stretch, gaining the advantage in the center of the track to hit the wire in 1:10.59.
Caught Dream'n, making her stakes debut in her third career start, was three-quarters of a length ahead of Vertrazzo in third. It was another 2 ¼ lengths back to stakes winner Pacific Gale in fourth.
Runner up in the Matron (G3) in her previous start, Take Charge Paula ($7.40) had to withstand a steward's inquiry and jockey objection from Chris DeCarlo, the rider of Pacific Gale, to earn her second career stakes victory.
“Just watching the replay I thought [Vertrazzo] did bother us a little bit and I think the filly was pretty game to keep on running,” winning trainer Kelly Breen said. “She ran a nice race.”
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