Everybody knows the 3-year-old preps in Florida: Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby; in Louisiana: LeComte, Risen Star, Louisiana Derby; in Arkansas: Southwest, Rebel, Arkansas Derby; in California: Robert Lewis, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby; and in New York: Withers, Gotham, Wood Memorial.
But how are you with the Maryland path to the Triple Crown races?
There are no Kentucky Derby points available, but 3-year-olds are nevertheless taking steps toward a bigger stage. The latest is Saturday at Laurel Park, where seven sophomores tangle in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. It follows the 7-furlong Frank Whiteley and the 1-mile Miracle Wood in a progression, and the long-awaited first two-turn race for 9-5 favorite O Dionysus.
Based at Laurel with trainer Gary Capuano, the Maryland-bred dominated the Miracle Wood Feb. 18 to win for the third time in eight starts. Capuano called the hometown schedule an easy – and practical – decision.
“He was a big handful early on, first couple races, now the more racing he does the more settled he is,” Capuano said after the Miracle Wood. “He’s been pretty professional lately as far as in the paddock, in the gate. We’ve been nursing this seven-eighths, the mile stuff. It’s what’s here. Otherwise, I’d have to ship to New York or someplace like that and I wasn’t quite ready to ship him, just to get his mind on his task more.”
Owned by Marathon Farm, O Dionysus left Laurel once – to win the Christopher Elser Stakes for South Carolina-certified horses at Parx in November – but has otherwise been a homeboy. He won his debut at Laurel in August, finished second in two allowance races, won the Elser, finished fourth in the Maryland Juvenile Championship in early December and lost by a nose to eventual Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry in the Marylander on New Year’s Eve.
Capuano called that defeat “a killer,” but the next one would be even tougher to take. O Dionysus finished a hard-luck second, beaten a half-length by High Roller, after finding trouble in the Whiteley Jan. 21.
“It was just a brutal trip,” Capuano said. “He didn’t break well. Down the backside . . . there was just a wall of horses in front of him. He’s checking, checking, checking. Turning for home, he checks again. He finally got a chance to drop down inside but (High Roller) had the momentum that day and we couldn’t nail that horse.”
All was clear in the Miracle Wood as O Dionysus lived up to his 4-5 odds and won by 3 lengths. Capuano smiled afterward.
“He got a great trip and showed that he does have talent,” he said of the Miracle Wood. “He’s just a cool horse. He does what you want him to do. He doesn’t do anything fancy. He’s a big, strong horse. He dances every dance and he’s there.”
The Private Terms will be the first start around two turns for O Dionysus, named for the Greek god of wine and fertility. The bay Bodemeister colt was bred by Dark Hollow Farm and was purchased by Marathon for $190,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale.
Jockey Jevian Toledo gets aboard again Saturday against familiar foes High Roller and No More Talk. The latter, a Maryland-bred half-brother to millionaire International Star, won a maiden race at Laurel Jan. 29 and was third in the Miracle Wood for trainer Tres Abbott and Olympic skier Bode Miller’s DB Dojo stable. Miller psent $140,000 for get the dark bay colt at the same Fasig-Tipton sale where Marathon bought O Dionysus.
The others include the Chad Brown-trained Twisted Tom in from New York, recent Laurel maiden winner Dharmaster for Mike Trombetta, Parx shipper Hashtag Alex (who won an allowance race as a maiden for trainer John Servis Feb. 28) and dual winner Greek Prince.
• The Private Terms is one of five stakes on the Laurel card, joining the Conniver for Maryland-bred/sired fillies and mares, the Not For Love for Maryland-bred/sired older horses, the Caesar’s Wish for 3-year-old fillies and the Harrison Johnson for older horses.
The 1-mile Caesar’s Wish includes Jenda’s Agenda, who ships in off two wins at Fair Grounds for Larry Jones, the 3-for-4 Crabcakes, the 2-for-2 Sine Wave, stakes winner Star Super from Cal Lynch’s barn, and February debut winner Tickled Pink from Graham Motion.
Bodhisattva returns in the Johnson, off a win in the John B. Campbell last month for owner/trainer Jose Corrales. The 5-year-old son of Student Council will have to deal with 7-5 favorite Matt King Coal, an easy winner at Laurel last out, from trainer Linda Rice in a field of nine.
• In addition, Laurel is billing Saturday as Celebration Day and will host a variety of events including a fantasy owners program designed as an introduction to racing for prospective Thoroughbred owners jointly presented by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Jockey Club.
More than 200 people have already registered for the event which includes a Q&A session with top racing partnerships, racing officials and horsemen. Participants will also be randomly paired to a horse entered that afternoon and enjoy all the same amenities afforded to the connections of that horse, such as access to the paddock and winner’s circle.
After an optional morning training session on Laurel’s apron, registrants will sign in at 10 a.m. when they will be paired with a horse for the day. A prospective owner’s seminar will be held at 10:30 a.m. followed by a luncheon in The Terrace Dining Room.
All fans will take home a long-sleeve Maryland Jockey Club t-shirt free with purchase of a racing program, while supplies last.