Glance at the past performances for Talk Show Man and a race three starts back stands out a bit more clearly and means quite a bit more than it did at the time.
The race was the July 12 Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park. Talk Show Man finished second, 3 lengths behind the winner, in his turf stakes debut in the 1 1/2-mile marathon. The winner was Hardest Core, who used that race as a prep for his heartwarming victory a month later in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.
The race also proved pretty useful for Talk Show Man, who won the Maryland Million Turf two starts and a little more than three months later. And the race also validated the opinions of the Great Notion gelding’s connections.
“When he ran in Henlopen Stakes at Delaware, we were second to Hardest Core,” said Dr. Michael Harrison, a Maryland-based veterinarian who bred and owns Talk Show Man. “That was … it was a substantial win he had. [Talk Show Man] put one hell of a kick in and it was a longer race. That sort of supported how good Talk Show Man was as well in our minds.”
Talk Show Man returns to the main track in Saturday’s $100,000 Richard W. Small Stakes on a loaded Fall Festival of Racing card at Laurel Park led by the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. He’s raced on the grass before and raced well, winning two of nine with four thirds to go with a fifth-place finish in the 2013 Maryland Million Classic in just his fourth career start.
“We’ve got no problem running him on the dirt either, he just likes the grass better,” Harrison said. “Hamilton (Smith, Talk Show Man’s trainer) has at least nominated him for the Richard Small; we’ll see what else is there. And then if things are going well we’ll look toward the Jennings later in the year.”
The year’s been a difficult one for the Harrison family, but Talk Show Man has provided a lift at the right moments.
Harrison’s wife, Beth, has a type of blood cancer and underwent a bone marrow transplant in early May. She hadn’t been out in public much, but was at Laurel last month with about 25 of the family’s friends, family and other folks who have helped out along the way to watch the pride of the family’s Willowdale Farm take on the state’s best. The group included defending Turf winner Roadhog and Mid-Atlantic legend Ben’s Cat.
Harrison said they came “not expecting but hoping something would happen.”
Talk Show Man made it happen, winning by a half-length over Ben’s Cat in the $126,250 Turf.
“It was a storybook day. … Everybody had a blast,” Harrison said of the packed winner’s circle and subsequent revelry.
Harrison, a longtime small-time owner and breeder who runs his veterinary practice off the family farm, said the Maryland Million was his highlight in racing.
“To win that race yes it is. Absolutely,” he said. “As Mike Pons has said, everybody in Maryland racing aspires to have won one. To get a horse that does well there, to get a win, you do that and he says you’ve supposedly arrived. It’s something special because a lot of your friends and your colleagues are there. They’ve got horses in and it means a lot to them. It’s very very special that way.”
Talk Show Man, who brings a record of three wins in nine starts and earnings of $162,211 into the Small, is one of 13 entered in the 9-furlong event. Xavier Perez gets the return call.
Others in the field are graded stakes winner Neck ‘n Neck and stakes winners Ground Transport, Cerro and Stormin Monarcho.
The Small is one of five $100,000 undercard stakes on Saturday’s card, along with the Smart Halo for 2-year-old fillies, James F. Lewis III for 2-year-olds, City of Laurel for 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs and Safely Kept for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs.
The 6-furlong De Francis isn’t graded but drew a graded-stakes quality field led by Grade 1 winner Dads Caps, Grade 2 winners Bern Identity and La Verdad, Grade 3 winners Happy My Way and Favorite Tale and the aforementioned legend Ben’s Cat.
Ben’s Cat is considered more of a turf sprinter yet brings a record 10-for-14 on the main track, including five stakes wins. Owner and trainer King Leatherbury indicated he might wait for the $200,000 Fabulous Strike Nov. 26 at Penn National Race Course. Regular rider Julian Pimentel covered his bases with a call on 5/2 morning-line favorite Dads Caps, winner of the Grade 1 Carter this spring at Aqueduct and second in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational last time out.
Equibase entries for Saturday’s Fall Festival of Racing at Laurel.