Maryland-breds earning spotlight on dirt and stonedust

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Ted Black

June 14th, 2018

Maryland racing typically flies below the radar except for Preakness Day and Maryland Million Day and onlookers seldom give Maryland-bred runners, trotters or pacers a second look at major events. But that could change dramatically this weekend as Maryland-breds of both breeds could account for a trio of graded stakes between them.

Last Saturday afternoon on the Belmont Stakes undercard, while onlookers were focused on Justify's successful bid to capture the Grade I, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes and thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, a Maryland-bred three-year-old named Still Having Fun earned a glimpse of the spotlight when he rallied from well off the early pace to capture the Grade II, $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes. A sophomore son of Old Fashioned trained by Tim Keefe, Still Having Fun recorded his first graded stakes score and third stakes tally overall by getting the seven furlongs in 1:21.45.

Still Having Fun emerged on the local scene at Laurel Park by taking both the $100,000 Frank Whitely, Jr. Memorial at seven panels and then the $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at the one-turn mile distance. Initially he was being pointed for a possible berth in the Preakness Stakes, but after finishing fourth as the odds-on favorite in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at one-mile and one-sixteenth then sixth as the second choice in the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at nine furlongs, Keefe quickly realized that Still Having Fun's distance limitations would limit his career to one-turn sprints.

On Preakness Day, when a steady, cold rain and foggy conditions turned the main track sloppy and decidedly speed favoring, Still Having Fun rallied from last to finish second in the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes for three-year-olds as Mitole splashed home five lengths clear as the odds-on favorite. Few horses were able to rally and make up considerable ground at Pimlico on Preakness Day, so Still Having Fun earned high praise simply for finishing second behind a budding division star.

Heading into the Grade II, $400,000 Woody Stephens on Saturday at Belmont, Still Having Fun garnered little respect as the Keefe trainee was sent out ast 13-1 from post six. Benefiting from wicked early fractions of 21.2 and 43.3 over a track that was playing fair, Still Having Fun uncorked his patented late kick and rallied widest of all to score by nearly two lengths in 1:21.45. It was his first graded stakes tally, third open stakes score overall and fourth win in eight lifetime outings and pushed his bankroll past $450,000.

Later that same evening at Mohawk Raceway in Toronto, Canada, two Maryland-bred pacers prevailed in their respective stakes eliminations and served notice that they will be genuine factors in the lucrative finals on the stellar Mohawk card this Saturday.

Just before the midway point of the Mohawk card in the second, $50,000 North America Cup elimination for three-year-old colt pacers, Wes Delight (Corey Callahan) continued the impressive start to his sophomore campaign when he benefited from a pocket trip behind American History (Yannick Gingras) and angled out midstretch and just got up between horses to score in 1:50.2. A Maryland-bred son of Bettor's Delight - another Maryland-bred star in his day - Wes Delight recorded his fourth straight victory and fifth win in six starts overall and looms a serious contender for the Grade I, $1 million final.

Several races later in the second, $35,000 Roses Are Red elimination for pacing fillies and mares, Tequila Monday (David Miller) continued her recent form spree when she led throughout to score by two lengths in 1:51. A four-year-old Maryland-bred daughter of American Ideal trained by Hunter Oakes, Tequila Monday notched her third straight victory and now owns three wins from five starts this year and 12 wins and earnings of nearly $670,000 in her career. She will be among the serious contenders in the Grade I, $275,000 Roses Are Red final this weekend.

Then on Monday evening at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, Slick Tony (Russell Foster) overcame a first over trip to overhaul Transitioning Joy (Montrell Teague) in the final yards to score in 1:53.4 in his $20,000 Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund elim opener. A sophomore son of No Spin Zone owned, bred and trained by George "Ronnie" Leager, Slick Tony drew the rail for this coming Monday's second elim and will look for another favorable draw in the $100,000 DSBF final on the lucrative July 26 Governor's Day card at Harrington during the heart of the Delaware State Fair.