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Koh I Noor Sharp for Harrison Johnson

Late bloomer Koh I Noor continues his quest towards the $500,000 Pimlico Special (G3) in his stakes debut on Saturday in the nine furlong Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park.

 

Two-time defending champion Eighttofasttocatch, General George (G3) winner Javerre, John B. Campbell champion Concealed Identity and 2011 Preakness Stakes (G1) runner Norman Asbjornson are among the five challengers.

 

Koh I Noor has won four straight at Laurel since October after a troubled trip in his debut in mid-September. His most recent win was a visual triumph, a handy eight-and-a-half length romp for trainer Dove Houghton on February 28 that earned him his second consecutive 99 Beyer Speed figure. Sheldon Russell will ride the Harlan’s Holiday colt with regular rider Luis Garcia at Tampa Bay Downs.

 

“We have to test the waters against stakes horses and we have to get around two turns even though this race is a little sooner back then we would like, doing it here at home would be the best for him,” Houghton said. “We are looking to see how he does against better company. This is definitely the best field we have faced but he did beat a horse who ran in the Kentucky Derby (Done Talking) last out in convincing fashion.”

 

Houghton, who has been the top female trainer in Maryland six times since 2006, has one stakes win on her resume.

 

“It is exciting,” added Houghton, a former assistant to Tony Dutrow and Carlos Garcia. “He has done everything we have asked him. He is a big, strong horse who is easy to train. This is a quality field and we are looking to see how he does when ‘he gets looked in the eye’ and these horses are going to look him in the eye.”

 

Concealed Identity (7-2) won for the first time in 14 months with a strong performance in the Campbell, which followed a solid third in allowance company in his 5-year-old debut. Promising apprentice rider Trevor McCarthy won his first stakes aboard the Smarty Jones offspring in the Campbell, as did trainer Linda Gaudet.

 

“There was something missing last year but he is really grown up and matured. We were very pleased with both of his starts this year,” Gaudet said. “It is a quality field but the race sets up well for us. Dove’s horse has been near the lead in most of his starts. Eighttofasttocatch does his best running out front and Javerre has to be sharp coming off the seven-eighths.”

 

Norman Asbjornson (4-1) was elevated to second in the Campbell behind Concealed Identity after he was fouled by Service for Ten in the final furlong. He has not won since January 2012 but finished second in a pair of stakes a year ago. With trainer Chris Grove suspended, the Real Quiet runner will be saddled by Grove’s assistant, Carlos Mancilla. Jeremy Rose picks up the mount.

 

Javerre (4-1) was 6-1 when he drove to victory in the General George, his second stakes win since winning the New Jersey Breeders Handicap. He also hit the board in the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap, the City of Laurel and the Native Dancer Stakes. J.D. Acosta keeps the mount for trainer Cal Lynch.

 

Eighttofasttocatch (9-2) has won six stakes races at Laurel during his career, including the 2011 and 2012 runnings of the Harrison Johnson. The son of Not For Love finished seventh in the Native Dancer Stakes after a strong second behind Called to Serve in the Broad Brush Stakes. Abel Castellano will ride the Tim Keefe trainee, who has won 10 times at Laurel.

 

Keefe will also saddle Hughes Next (20-1), who finished third in the Broad Brush on New Year’s Eve. Forest Boyce rides the son of Henny Hughes.

 

 

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