Laurel stakes roundup: Hello Beautiful too tough in What a Summer

Laurel stakes roundup: Hello Beautiful too tough in What a Summer
Photo: Laurel Park Photo

Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables’ Hello Beautiful picked up where she left off in 2020 while punching her ticket for a return to graded-stakes competition with a front-running victory in Saturday’s $100,000 What a Summer at Laurel Park.

The 35th running of the What a Summer for fillies and mares 4 and older and the 25th edition of the Fire Plug for 4-year-olds and up, both sprinting six furlongs, were among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses on a Winter Carnival program that opened Maryland’s 2021 stakes calendar.

It was the fifth career stakes victory for Hello Beautiful ($2.40), third in a row and third of the day for jockey Sheldon Russell, following Gale in the $75,000 Geisha and Wendell Fong in the $100,000 Fire Plug. The winning time was 1:10.67 over a main track rated good.

Russell’s wife, trainer Brittany Russell, and the connections are hoping to use the What a Summer as a stepping-stone to the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3), contested at seven furlongs Feb. 13 at Laurel.

“To be fair, I think she’s better going seven-eighths,” Sheldon Russell said. “So, she has options. She showed us last time I rode her that she can rate. Hopefully she can keep progressing and we can have some fun with her this year.”

Breaking from post 3 in a field of eighth as the 1-5 favorite, Hello Beautiful was quickly on the lead and kept busy through a quarter-mile in 22.22 seconds and a half in 45.54 by 10-time winner Malibu Mischief, who moved within a half-length on the turn as their rivals lagged behind.

“It almost seems like in the races she runs in now there’s always one or two (horses) that have a lot of speed, but me and Brittany sit down the night before every time she runs and people forget, our filly’s fast, too,” Sheldon Russell said. “She’s extremely fast out of the gate and coming into the race she was very fresh, and she was doing well.”

Maryland-bred Hello Beautiful, by Golden Lad, opened up again with little urging from Russell to take a four-length advantage into the stretch and was never threatened while geared down as 10-1 long shot Club Car closed for second.

“I always ride her the same way. I bounce her out of there and if somebody wants to get crazy or get me outrun, I’ll have to go to Plan B. But she’s free-rolling filly so I just jump out and leave her alone,” Russell said. “She gets comfortable in front and she’s very easy to ride. A great job to Brittany and her team. I’m just very happy she won again for us.”

Club Car, fourth in the Willa On the Move on Dec. 26 at Laurel, was 8½ lengths ahead of 23-1 long shot Bridlewood Cat in third. They were followed by Escapade, Malibu Mischief, Tarawa, New York Groove and Cause I’m Edgy.

Hello Beautiful improved to 7-0 lifetime at Laurel, including stakes wins at 2 in the Maryland Million Lassie and Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, and 3 in the Maryland Million Distaff and Safely Kept, the latter two to cap her 2020 campaign.

Now 7-for-13 lifetime with earnings approaching $400,000, Hello Beautiful was sixth behind Frank’s Rockette in her only previous graded-stakes attempt, the six-furlong Prioress (G2) last September at Saratoga.

The What a Summer honors the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter of 1977, bred in Maryland and a winner of 18 of 31 lifetime starts. Trained by the late Bud Delp and Leroy Jolley, both Hall of Famers, she won nine stakes including the Fall Highweight Handicap and Silver Spoon Handicap twice, and the Black-Eyed Susan.

Kenny Had a Notion digs in to win Spectacular Bid

Louis J. Ulman and H. Neil Glasser’s Kenny Had a Notion, a juvenile stakes winner on both turf and dirt, dueled from start to finish with a stubborn Maythehorsebwithu before prevailing by a neck in Saturday’s $100,000 Spectacular Bid at Laurel Park.

The inaugural seven-furlong Spectacular Bid for 3-year-olds and return of the $100,000 Xtra Heat for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs were among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses on a Winter Carnival program that launched Maryland’s 2021 stakes calendar.

Ridden by Jorge Ruiz for trainer Dale Capuano, Kenny Had a Notion ($8) led all the way to snap a two-race losing streak with his third career stakes win. The winning time was 1:23.98 over a fast main track.

“He’s been showing a lot more speed the last few races. I think a lot has to do with him maturing and getting himself together,” Capuano said. “We’re very pleased with him.”

Kenny Had a Notion was pressed by Maythehorsebwithu from the outset, the two running in tandem through a quarter-mile in 23.14 seconds and a half in 46.47, briefly joined in the chase by Shackqueenking, winner of the 1 1/16-mile Howard County on Dec. 26 at Laurel. The top pair began to edge away once straightened for home and set the stage for a battle through the lane with Kenny Had a Notion, racing along the rail, refusing to budge under relentless pressure.

Maythehorsebwithu, who beat Kenny Had a Notion when second in the First State Dash over a sloppy track last fall, was two lengths ahead of Shackqueenking in second. Tiz Mandate was another length back in fourth, trailed by Erawan, Nobody Knew, Scotch Rock’s and Wicked Prankster.

“He’s just gotten better,” Capuano said. “His first race when he won at Delaware, he ran a decent race but not that fast. Then the next time was on an off track and he didn’t run well. Then he won on the turf and in the Maryland Million. The turf race seemed to turn him around.”

Kenny Had a Notion won the 5½-furlong Jamestown Stakes on Laurel’s world-class turf course in October and now has also won at six and seven furlongs on the main track. He ran sixth after displacing his palate in the James F. Lewis III on Dec. 13, had a procedure to correct the problem and came back two weeks later to be second by a neck in the Heft on Dec. 26.

“He’s run well at six and seven (furlongs), so I think we’ll stretch him out at some point,” Capuano said. “He’s game. He seems to carry his speed at seven, so it’s exciting. We’ll see how far he takes us.”

Spectacular Bid was named champion colt at 2 and 3 and champion older horse and Horse of the Year at 4 for late Maryland-based Hall of Fame trainer Grover ‘Bud’ Delp, who called him “the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle.” ‘The Bid’ won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and won each of his last 10 races, retiring with 26 wins and nearly $2.8 million in purse earnings from 30 starts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.


Street Lute Makes It Four Straight Victories in $100,000 Xtra Heat

Lucky 7 Stables’ Street Lute, cutting back to six furlongs for the first time in two months, ran her win streak to four races, all in stakes, with a dominant five-length triumph in the $100,000 Xtra Heat.

A neck shy of being undefeated in seven career starts, Street Lute ($2.80) ran six furlongs in 1:10.31 over a fast main track under regular rider Xavier Perez in her 3-year-old season opener.

“The horses, they all improve after they win and she’s done nothing but win, so she expects to win,” winning trainer John ‘Jerry’ Robb said. “I think that helps.”

Perez and Street Lute were outrun for the early lead by Trip to Freedom, the Maryland Million Lassie show finisher who went the first quarter-mile in 22.51 seconds. Street Lute, racing in the clear two wide, eased up to take over the top spot following a half in 45.64 and kept rolling, opening up by five lengths heading for home.

“It’s easy to say now, but I kept looking for the fractions to make sure (Perez) was going easy and apparently he was,” Robb said. “I was confident coming into today but after watching the races today and all the closers were winning every race, I was a little nervous from that.”

Miss Leslie, winner of the 1 1/16-mile Ann Arundel County in her previous start, ran second to snap her three-race win streak. It was 3¾ lengths back to 30-1 long shot Breeze Off the Bay, who edged Whiskey and Rye by a neck for third. It Can, Plane Drunk, Trip to Freedom and Incomparable completed the order of finish.

Street Lute overcame an eye injury and subsequent surgery to win her debut, delayed to September at Delaware Park. The Street Magician filly won the Small Wonder in her second start and got caught at the wire in the Maryland Million Lassie before reeling off consecutive wins in the Smart Halo, Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship and Gin Talking, the latter Dec. 26.

Robb tied Mike Trombetta for second overall among all trainers with 43 wins in Maryland last year. It was Trombetta’s Miss Nondescript that edged Street Lute in the Lassie.

“The whole barn’s been doing good, not just her,” Robb said. “We’ve been having a great meet, thanks to everyone.”

Last run at Pimlico in 2007, the Xtra Heat honors the Maryland-based Hall of Fame mare and champion 3-year-old filly of 2001 that won 26 of 35 career starts, captured 25 stakes including the Prioress (G1), and was second against the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, both during her championship season.


Wendell Fong Gives Lynch First Winner in $100,000 Fire Plug

Gold Square’s Wendell Fong came with a steady run on the far outside to run down Grade 3 winner Share the Ride approaching the wire and give trainer Natalia Lynch her first career victory in the $100,000 Fire Plug.

Wendell Fong ($15.80) ran six furlongs in 1:10.01 over a main track rated good to earn his second career stakes victory and second of the day for jockey Sheldon Russell following Gale in the $75,000 Geisha. Lynch had gone winless in her first 16 starts as a trainer dating back to last summer.

“It was me and my mom and my son watching it at home, and we were screaming and crying. It was amazing,” Lynch said by phone. “I think it’s been holding off until this horse. I really think it was. He just means more to me than the world. To have it with him, I’ll never forget it.”

Lynch, 26 is a native of Maryland who began galloping horses while attending Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County. She has a long association with Wendell Fong going back to when she was working as an assistant to trainer Jeremiah Englehart, overseeing his Laurel string. Lynch helped prepare the now 5-year-old son of Flat Out for his debut, which he won in the final month of 2018, as well as his lone prior stakes victory in the 2019 Gold Fever at Belmont Park.

After getting a class break in his last two starts, Wendell Fong returned to stakes company and rewarded Lynch’s devotion and dedication. Lynch was winless with four seconds from 16 starters since going out on her own last summer; Wendell Fong was No. 17.

“I had spoken to Talie last night and she pretty much said to just sort of leave him alone, sort of don’t send him and don’t take him back,” Russell said. “He’s a professional horse. Drawing from the inside I didn’t really have any options but to stay quiet, and to be fair I actually clipped heels, so he took a little stumble, and I was probably a little further back than I wanted to be. What a cool horse to ride. He was ready today. Great job to Talie and her team. I’m very happy to get Talie her first win as a trainer.”

Breaking from the rail inside his six rivals, Wendell Fong clipped heels with 2020 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) winner Laki shortly out of the gate and trailed the field as Maryland Million Sprint winner Karan’s Notion and multiple stakes winner Lebda alternated through fractions of 22.17 and 45.24 seconds. Wendell Fong began gaining ground on the turn and was set down once straightened for home, getting up by a neck in the final jump.

“It just felt like they were going really fast early on and he just got so comfortable down the backside. At about the three-eighths pole I was just showing him a little bit of daylight on the outside and he started picking them up,” Russell said. “At the top of the stretch he just jumped on the bridle and was really trying. He was well-prepared today. Great job to Talie and her team.”

Share the Ride was second, 2¼ lengths ahead of Lebda. It was another 2 ¼ lengths back to 2-1 favorite Laki in fourth, followed by Karan’s Notion, Arthur’s Hope and Penguin Power.

Wendell Fong had not won since the Gold Fever. With Lynch staying home, trainer Brittany Russell saddled the horse. Russell was one of several trainers Lynch worked for before going out on her own.

“It’s really cool because I worked for Brittany and Sheldon and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with other people than them. It’s just as rewarding that it was with them as well,” Lynch said. “Everyone kept calling me and telling me congratulations, but I’m more happy for him than myself.  He really deserves it. It’s good to see his confidence back. It’s been a while.”

The Fire Plug is named for the popular gelding that won or placed in 49 of 54 lifetime starts, mostly sprinting, and registered 14 stakes victories including at least one every year from age 3 to 7. He retired in 1991 with 28 wins and $705,175 in purse earnings.


Tattooed Snags Elusive Stakes Victory in $75,000 Jennings

Holt, Montuori and Palumbo Racing Stable’s 6-year-old gelding Tattooed, making his 32nd career start, became a stakes winner for the first time with a rallying neck triumph over Galerio in Saturday’s $75,000 Jennings at Laurel Park.

The 79th running of the Jennings for 4-year-olds and up and 48th edition of the $75,000 Geisha for females 4 and older, both restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses, were among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses on a Winter Carnival program that opened Maryland’s 2021 stakes calendar.

Ridden by Angel Cruz for trainer Tim Keefe, who also teamed up to take Saturday’s opener with 4-year-old maiden Johng, Tattooed ($23.80) ran one mile in 1:37.46 over a main track rated good for his sixth career victory, all at Laurel. He has run in the past three editions of the Maryland Million Classic, finishing third last fall.

“The key is really patient owners. They’ve been great and let me do what I do best and that’s be patient with an older horse like this just to try to get him to develop and come into his own at his own time,” Keefe said. “They never push me to run him. They let me run him when he’s ready.”

Multiple stakes winner Alwaysmining, racing for the first time since last July, was sharp from the break and eager for the lead, going a quarter-mile in 24.13 seconds and a half in 47.10, with Galerio ranging up in the clear three wide to challenge. Tattooed, meanwhile, settled in mid-pack before getting untracked once straightened for home, weaving through traffic to find open space and get up late.

“He’s not a particularly easy horse to ride. Angel had ridden him earlier in his career,” Keefe said. “He’s got a quarter of a mile run, and that’s it. Running to the second wire going a mile, if you start too early he’s not going to finish. He did a great job doing that. He’s a game horse. The way Angel rode him, weaving in and out of traffic, he just kept on coming and got there at the end so we’re very fortunate.”

Galerio was second, two lengths ahead of multiple stakes winner Cordmaker, third in the historic Pimlico Special (G3) in 2019 and 2020. Hanalei’s Houdini, Hall Pass, My Friends Beer, Air Token, Oxide and defending champion Alwaysmining.

It was the fifth Jennings win for Keefe, who won four consecutive editions with Eighttofasttocatch (2011-14).

The Jennings is named for William Jennings Sr., one of Maryland’s all-time great horsemen. Jennings’ Glengar Farm, located six miles from Pimlico Race Course, came to national prominence in the late 1800s thanks to horses like 1887 Preakness winner Dunboyne. Jennings’ grandson is Hall of Fame trainer Henry S. Clark, honored with his own stakes in Maryland.


Gale Blows Away Rivals to Become Stakes Winner in $75,000 Geisha

Robert LaPenta, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Bridledwood Farm’s Gale, back on her favorite track following a troubled graded and stakes debut in New York last fall, rolled to a front-running 2 ¾-length triumph in the $75,000 Geisha.

Though based in New York with trainer Jonathan Thomas, Gale ($3) made her first three starts at Laurel, the first two on turf, with wins on both grass and dirt before stepping up and stretching out in the 1 1/8-mile Comely (G3) Nov. 27. She was bumped and stumbled at the start, rushed up into contention and faded to be fifth.

Favored at 1-2, Gale broke a bit flat-footed in the Geisha but quickly got settled under jockey Sheldon Russell and worked her way to forge a short lead over multiple stakes winner Artful Splatter after a quarter-mile in 23.87 seconds. Gale began to separate from the field through splits of 46.43 and 1:12.11 and had plenty of room to hold off a late stretch bid from Kiss the Girls to win in 1:39.24 for one mile.

Kiss the Girls was 7¼ lengths ahead of Coconut Cake, making her stakes debut, in third. They were followed by S W Briar Rose, Artful Splatter and She’smysunshine.

A 4-year-old daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, Gale fetched $450,000 as a 2-year-old in training in 2019. Unraced at 2, she graduated second time out in a 1 1/16-mile maiden claimer over Laurel’s world-class turf course last October and went gate-to-wire in a restricted one-mile allowance on the dirt – both over older horses – winning by a 20 combined lengths.

The Geisha honors Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s Maryland-bred mare, foaled at Sagamore Farm in 1943. Bred to Preakness winner Polynesian, she is best known for producing Native Dancer, one of the greatest racehorses and sires of the 20th century.

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