After suffering a heartbreaking loss by less than a length to undefeated Digital Age in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, rising 3-year-old grass star A Thread of Blue will seek to resume his speedy dominance Saturday in the 7th running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Penn Mile at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa.
Owned by Leonard C. Green and trained in New York by Kiaran McLaughlin, A Thread of Blue hinted at his quality as a 2-year-old last year and then rose to the top of the class this past winter at Gulfstream Park, winning an allowance race, the Dania Beach Stakes and the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes in succession under jockey Luis Saez.
He made all the pace in the American Turf, widening his lead to three lengths at the top of the stretch, before being caught near the line and having his winning streak snapped. The Kentucky-bred son of Hard Spun boasts a record of four wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts with earnings of $315,190.
“He shows up every time,” said McLaughlin, who will ship A Thread of Blue to Penn National the morning of the race. “He shows a lot of speed, but in the Palm Beach he laid off the pace, and that was nice. Luis Saez will be there. We thought the turnback to a mile [from a mile and a sixteenth in the American Turf] will be great. We thought this was a great spot and great timing.”
A Thread of Blue will carry top weight of 122 pounds and morning-line favoritism at 5-2 odds in the Penn Mile against eight rivals, including Casa Creed, runner-up in the Palm Beach Stakes; The Black Album, a Group 3 stakes winner in France who was beaten less than three lengths in the American Turf; and Forty Under, winner last September of the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes on the turf at Belmont Park.
The Penn Mile has once again attracted trainer Mark Casse, recent winner of the Preakness Stakes with War of Will. Casse runners finished 1-2 in the 2016 Penn Mile with filly turf star Catch a Glimpse defeating barn mate Airoforce.
This year, the trainer returns with John Oxley's Moon Colony (12-1), a half-brother to multiple-graded stakes winner Cavorting, who earned more than $2 million in her career.
Moon Colony broke his maiden on the grass at Keeneland last October and a month later delivered a powerful two-length victory in a turf allowance race at the Fair Grounds.
Casse gave Moon Colony some time off after a close-up fifth-place finish in the Kitten's Joy Stakes in January at Gulfstream Park and said the rest has allowed his colt to grow up.
“I like him a lot,” Casse said. “When the dust clears, he's going to be a good horse. I gave him a little break after his last race. He wasn't very heavy and lightened up after the Kitten's Joy, and I brought him to our training center in Ocala, and he's come back and trained extremely well.”
While Moon Colony's female family has predominantly produced dirt runners, his sire Uncle Mo's offspring also take to grass racing.
“He trains good on both,” Casse said. “I thought the grass would be better for him off a long layoff.”
Casa Creed (6-1), owned by LRE Racing and JEH Racing Stable and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, defeated Moon Colony in the Kitten's Joy before finishing sixth behind A Thread of Blue in the Dania Beach, second by just three-quarters of a length in the Palm Beach and ninth in the American Turf.
Another top contender in the race is Real News (5-1), trained by Al Stall for Town and Country Racing and Gary Broad. The son of The Factor finished second, beaten just a half-length, on May 18 in the James W. Murphy Stakes at a mile on the grass on the Preakness Stakes undercard.
The colt has two wins and two runner-up finishes in four starts.
An intriguing long shot in the Penn Mile is the French-bred The Black Album (15-1), owned by Team Valor International and Gary Barber and trained in Kentucky by Rodolphe Brisset.
The Black Album won a Group 3 stakes race at Longchamp before coming to the United States and finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on soft ground at Churchill Downs.
Since then, he finished third in the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland and then loomed boldly in the stretch after a poor star when seventh in the American Turf.
“He actually ran his best race last time,” Brisset said. “He was No. 12 [the outside post in the starting gate] and was acting up and rearing up a little bit. It was just very bad timing. The [horse next to him] went up in the air at the break, and our horse looked left and the gate opened, and he just broke up in the air. He was 10 or 12 lengths off the pace, and it was a slow pace of 49 seconds. It's hard to close in a pace like that, and he did. He cut the corner and closed some ground. We just crossed that race off and looked at the next one, and this mile is what we're looking forward to.”
August Dawn Farm and trainer Jeremiah Englehart enter Forty Under (7-2), the aforementioned winner last September of the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes over yielding ground at Belmont Park. After that victory, the gray or roan son of Uncle Mo chased the pace in second into the stretch before fading to sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
In his lone start this year, Forty Under finished second in the listed Woodhaven Stakes on yielding ground at Aqueduct. In his only try on firm turf, Forty Under broke his maiden at Saratoga.
Completing the field for the Penn Mile are Awad Stakes winner Empire of War (9-2), Fluminense (10-1), and Conative (20-1).
The Penn Mile, with a scheduled post time of 7:50 p.m., is the richest race of the year at Hollywood Casino at Penn National and in its brief history has become one of the most important turf races for three-year-olds in the country.
The race is the centerpiece of a sterling 12-race card that features eight stakes worth a total of $1.3 million. Post time for the first race is 2:45 p.m.
In the $200,000 Penn Oaks, a mile companion turf race for three-year-old fillies, Regal Glory, a daughter of 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom, heads a field of eight for three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Post time for the Penn Oaks is 7:15 p.m.
The two marquee races on the card complete an all-stakes Penn Pick 4 that starts with Race 8, the $100,000 Susquehanna Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf and continues with the 49th running of the $100,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup, a five-furlong turf sprint that attracted multiple graded stakes winner Pure Sensation.
The second running of the $100,000 Penn Ladies Dash, the sixth race on the card, attracted six stakes winners in a field of eight, including Ms. Locust Point, winner last year of the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park. Trained by John Servis, Ms. Locust has won three of four starts this year including the Primonetta Stakes.
Four of the stakes races on the card – The Penn Ladies Dash, Chocolate Town Sprint, Susquehanna Stakes and Pennsylvania Governor's Cup – are all MATCH Series races. The five-month series is contested at five different Mid-Atlantic racetracks across four different divisions, with $2 million in prize money and $400,000 in bonuses on the line for owners, trainers, breeders and certifiers.
From a wagering standpoint, in addition to the Penn Pick 4, there are two other Pick 4s on the card – an all-stakes Pick 4 in races four through seven, and a MATCH Series Pick 4 in races six through nine.
The Penn Mile card also will be part of the all-stakes Cross-Country Pick 5, an innovative wager offered in conjunction with Belmont Park. The Pick 5 sequence will feature the eighth race at Belmont, the Grade 3, $200,000 Pennine Ridge on the turf, followed by races eight through 11 at Penn National.
Additionally, Penn National will offer mandatory payouts Saturday in the Hollywood High 5 Race 2 and the Penn Pick 6 which commences in Race 3.
Standard box seats and box seat suites for the Penn Mile can be purchased by calling (717) 469-3210.
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