So far, so very good for Skychai Racing and trainer Mike Maker with Special Ops
The well-traveled Big Brown gelding, who will start from the outside in the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G2) on Saturday at Laurel Park, has finished third and won twice since Skychai claimed him for $50,000 on June 18 at Churchill Downs.
The $200,000 Baltimore/Washington International, formerly run as the Commonwealth Turf Cup, drew a field of eight for the one-mile turf stake that is part of the "Class on the Grass" program. Daniel Centeno will ride Special Ops. This will be Special Ops’ first visit to Laurel Park, but the 12th track he has competed on in his career.
The success since the claim and Maker’s decision to add blinkers has yielded $100,820 in purse earnings and connected Special Ops to the Skychai/Maker claim of Da Big Hoss in 2015. Da Big Hoss, who is recovering from an ankle injury suffered in training in April, has won eight of 12 starts, five of them in graded stakes and earned over $1 million. Special Ops was third in his debut for Skychai and Maker, a listed stakes at Indiana Grand on July 15. He won the West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker’s Cup Stakes on Aug. 5 at Mountaineer Park and held on to win by a neck in a starter allowance at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 10.
“We’ve had good luck on Father’s Day. We claimed this one on Father’s Day, the same as we did Da Big Hoss,” said Harvey Diamond, the retired Louisville physician, who is a principal with Jim Shircliff in Skychai. “I don’t know if this guy is the Big Hoss, but he’s a 6-year-old and he seems to have a lot of strengths. He pretty much bounces back from races very well. He came out of the race, the $75,000 starter race at Kentucky Downs, in good shape. Once again, we were lucky making the claim.”
Maker has developed a solid reputation with his ability to turn claimers into graded stakes winners, especially on turf. Da Big Hoss is his biggest success, but his list of claimers-to-stakes winners includes Bigger Picture, Oscar Nominated, Al’s Gal and Taghleeb.
The Da Big Hoss claim was an impulse move by Diamond, Shircliff and Maker, who ended up with their star in a four-way shake, but the Special Ops acquisition was more calculated.
“This was kind of a consensus between us,” Diamond said. “I was in England at the time, but was following what was going on here. I think Mike and Jim went to the track and took a look at him and liked what they saw. So the next thing you know we dropped a claim.”
Diamond said that Skychai has five horses at present and typically has four or five investors in its horses.
Cross Roads Set for Stakes Debut in Oakley
Fresh off her first career victory, Cross Roads makes a quick return to competition Saturday in the Oakley Stakes at Laurel Park. The Oakley is for Virginia-bred fillies and mares going 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass.
Owner Roddy Harrison and trainer Lacey Gaudet claimed Cross Roads for $16,000 on Sept. 22 at Laurel Park and are sending her right back into competition in her first stakes.
“She came out of that last race great,” Gaudet said. “The owner originally claimed her for a broodmare prospect, so we are kind of looking to get some black type on her this weekend.”
The 3-year-old daughter of Quality Road led from gate to wire for that maiden win under Forest Boyce, who has been aboard for all five of her races and will be up again in the Oakley Stakes. They will start from post seven in the field of 11.
“She was great in front the last time,” Gaudet said. “Forest knows her really well. We’re really going to leave that in the hands of Forest.
She drew all right. It looks like the toughest horse is on the outside. There is a little bit of speed, so we’re going to hope that Forest knows her a little bit more than we do. She came out of the race in great shape, so we’re going to give her a try.
Lael Stables’ 5-year-old mare Exaggerated drew the outside post and is the 2-1 morning line favorite. Exaggerated won the Oakley in 2015. She will be making her second start in 2017 and first since April on Saturday in the Oakley
Secret or Not Hopes Third Time is the Charm
Larry Le Hew’s Secret or Not makes her third straight start in the $60,000 Brookmeade Stakes Saturday at Laurel Park. She was third in 2015 and fourth in 2016 in the 1 1/16 miles turf race for Virginia-bred fillies and mares.
Trainer A. Ferris Allen III is hoping that the firm conditions expected for the “Class on the Grass” program will be good for the 5-year-old daughter of Orientate. She drew post three in the field of seven and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.
“She’s a real nice, consistent filly,” Allen said. “She’s probably not as fancy as a couple that are picked ahead of her in the race, but we get a little different surface this week, it looks like. We’ve been running over softer grass. The grass course has sped up and we think that might help us.”
Source: Maryland Jockey Club