The Best of the Laurel Fall Meet
by John Piassek
We’re just about done with the 2017 Laurel fall meet. Soon, the calendar will turn to 2018, and the Maryland racing circuit will embark on the four-month winter/spring meet.
As things wind down, let’s take a look back at the best horses to race at Laurel this meet, by each division.
BEST TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE: WHIRLIN CURLIN
On the morning of November 25, the odds of Whirlin Curlin winning one stakes race this year, much less two, seemed extremely remote. He had been thoroughly buried in both of his races, losing by 37 1/4 lengths and 10 3/4 lengths, respectively. That afternoon, he was set to run in the Christopher Esler Stakes, restricted to two-year-olds that had been registered with the South Carolina TOBA, and was dismissed at 23/1. To the surprise of just about everyone, he pulled off the upset, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
Two weeks later, Whirlin Curlin resurfaced in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity. The primary storyline in that race was the rematch between the top two finishers in the Maryland Million Nursery: Clever Mind and Jamaican Don. Recent impressive maiden winner Still Havin Fun also drew plenty of attention. Once again, Whirlin Curlin was ignored, going off at 21/1.
However, lightning ended up striking twice. The chestnut gelding stalked the pace four-wide, battled with Still Havin Fun down the stretch, and prevailed by a neck. In the span of two weeks, Whirlin Curlin had gone from unremarkable maiden to two-time stakes winner. The sheer unliklieness of the featmakes him the winner of the award for Laurel Park’s best two-year-old male.
BEST TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY: LIMITED VIEW
Limited View burst onto the Maryland racing scene with an impressive score at Laurel on June 17. It was impressive enough, in fact, that she was sent to the Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga. Unfortunately, she lost by 20 lengths.
Undeterred, the filly returned on opening day of the Laurel fall meet, in a n/w1x allowance. She won easily as the 1/5 favorite. However, things would not come as easily in her next race, the Maryland Million Lassie. She was fractious in the gate, broke slowly, and fell far behind. The situation looked bleak, but at the 3/8 pole, Limited View launched her rally. By the quarter pole, she had moved up into fourth, but she was still four lengths behind the leader, Pikachu Princess. Limited View kept on coming, though, and got up to win by almost a length.
Had she not raced again at the meet, that might have been enough to get the “best of” award, but Limited View didn’t stop there. She returned in the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship on December 9. This time, there was no drama. She went right to the front and blew away the field, winning by six lengths.
Three wins on the meet, with two stakes wins, makes Limited View the choice for best two-year-old filly of the meet.
BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE: RIVER DEEP
Unlike the previous two, River Deep had no flashy victories, not any stakes wins. In fact, until October 23, he was still a maiden. Once he got going, though, he never stopped.
River Deep broke his maiden in his eighth career start, in a 1 1/16 miles turf race. He grabbed the lead early on and never relinquished it, winning by a neck at 9/1. Next time out, just ten days after that first win, he was entered a n/w1x Maryland-bred allowance race on the turf. He gained control after about three-eighths of a mile and just kept going, winning by five lengths, after being in front by eight lengths at one point.
Twenty days later, River Deep was back, in a n/w2x open company race. Breaking from the outside post 10, he couldn’t get to the early lead, and was forced to rate three-wide. Undeterred, he made his move on the far turn, and held a two-length lead as he turned for home. No one could catch him, and River Deep had won his third consecutive race.
For an encore performance, River Deep returned on December 16, in an allowance race on the dirt. How would he handle the change in surface? As it turned out, the answer was: quite easily. River Deep stalked leader Jeezum Jim, made his move on the far turn, and drew off to win his fourth consecutive race. For that winning streak, which spanned both dirt and turf, he wins this “best of” award.
BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY: CRABCAKES
This Maryland-bred filly made noise as a two-year-old, winning her first three races. The hype started to die down as she went on a losing streak of stakes races, but by late summer, she re-discovered her form. Her streak started during the Laurel summer meet, winning the Miss Disco Stakes. That victory prepped her well for her fall meet debut, in an open-company n/w2x allowance.
Sent off at 2/5 in that spot, she won it exactly like a 2/5 shot should. She won by almost six lengths, in a blazing final time of 1:09.63 for six furlongs.
Off that effort, she was a 1/5 favorite in the Maryland Million Distaff. She had a bit of a tougher time in that race, rating off 60/1 early leader She Rolls, then grinding past her in the stretch. In the end, she held off the late charge of My Magician to win by half a length. Even though her campaign ended with a third-place finish in the Mahoning Valley Distaff in Ohio, her exploits at Laurel were enough to win her this award.
BEST TURF MALE: RIVER DEEP
BEST TURF FEMALE: CARA’S NAY NAY
This seven-year-old mare has been hanging around for a while, with sixty-one starts and twelve victories to her name. She had an excellent fall meet, becoming the only turf female to win more than once. After starting the season with a fourth-place finish on September 9, she won a $15,000 claiming race on September 24, as the 3/2 favorite.
Following a ship up to Suffolk Downs on October 1, she returned to Maryland on October 20, to compete in a $20,000 claiming race. Despite three victories on the year, two of them at Laurel, she was sent off at 7/1. She pulled off the victory in a close photo finish, earning her this award.
BEST OLDER MALE: CLASSIC WILDCAT
A few weeks before the start of the fall meet, the great Ben’s Cat, who had been retired earlier in the year, died due to complications from colic. The 32-time winner was honored in a ceremony on November 11. It’s appropriate, then, that a hard-knocking horse with the same owner and the same trainer as the Cat would go on to great success at the meet.
The 11-year-old veteran won his first race at Laurel on January 2, 2009, well before most of the horses he raced against this year were even born. He’s raced 93 times since then, at tracks up and down the eastern seaboard. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Classic Wildcat really turned it up.
Despite just one win on the year up to that point, Classic Wildcat was sent off as the 5/2 favorite in a $5,000 claiming race on October 1. He rallied wide and won by 3 1/4 lengths, after being up by more than five lengths at one point. He then finished second on October 28, but it wasn’t until Ben’s Cat day that Classic Wildcat really started dominating.
In the 4th race that day, Classic Wildcat was the 2/1 second choice in the field of seven. Once again, he made a wide move and drew off to win. An 11-year-old winning two races in a six-week stretch would be noteworthy on its own, but Classic Wildcat wasn’t finished yet.
By November 25, the public had caught on to Classic Wildcat’s form, and he was sent off as the 1/5 favorite in a field of five. It was a race was minimal drama; he stalked a loose leader, and when that one got tired, he pounced and drew off to a two-length victory.
For an encore performance, Classic Wildcat entered the 2nd race on December 11. This time, he had a stout rival: Sky Chaparral had three victories at the meet himself, including a win just seven days earlier. As such, he was sent off as the 1/5 favorite, while Classic Wildcat was the 7/2 second choice. However, the old man had one more new trick up his sleeve. Rating off dueling leaders Media Time and Attempt to Dream, he made his move on the far turn, had the lead turning for home, and held off Sky Chaparral for his fourth win of the season.
Any horse winning four races from five races at a meet would be impressive. For an 11-year-old to do it, though, is nothing short of remarkable.
BEST OLDER FEMALE: MY MAGICIAN
Just four days before opening day of the fall meet, My Magician had a nice tune-up, with an allowance score at Timonium. It was her third win of the year, with one of those wins being the Dashing Beauty Stakes at Delaware Park. Her success at the fall meet only served to accent a terrific 2017 campaign.
She made her season debut in the Maryland Million Distaff, on October 21. She finished a fast-closing second behind the aforementioned Crabcakes. Staying in Maryland-bred/sired company, she was sent off at 3/5 next out, in the Geisha Stakes, and won going away.
After a fourth-place finish in the Willa on the Move Stakes against open company, My Magician sought to redeem herself in the Geisha Stakes on December 30. She dropped far off the pace, at one point as far as 10 1/2 lengths behind the leader. Turning for home, she was still 3 1/2 lengths behind. However, she kept on going and going, and caught leader Renaissance Rosie in the last few strides to win by a neck.
Two stakes wins, plus a stakes runner-up, makes My Magician the winner of this award.