Defending champion Prendimi, 2020 winner Monday Morning Qb and Ournationonparade, who tasted Maryland Million success as a 2-year-old in 2019, will be among a strong field of contenders for the $150,000 Classic on the 37th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program Saturday at Laurel Park.
The 1 1/8-mile Classic for 3-year-olds and up is the richest on a 12-race card featuring eight stakes and four starter stakes that comprise ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races,’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state. Carded as Race 11, the Classic will have an approximate post time of 5 p.m. EST.
Doors will open at 10 a.m. EST Saturday, with a first race post time Saturday of 11:30 a.m.
G.J. Stable’s Prendimi, making his fourth straight appearance in the Classic, is looking to become the first repeat winner since Admirals War Chest in 2015 and 2016. He and Monday Morning Qb can also become just the sixth horse to win it twice joining Timely Warning (1990-91), Algar (1997-98), Docent (2002-03) and Eighttofasttocatch (2011, 2013-14), the only three-time winner.
Luis Carvajal Jr. continues to hold last year’s Classic win in high regard, coming four years after Imperial Hint gave the trainer his first graded-stakes victory over the same racetrack in the 2017 General George (G3) before going on to become a four-time Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire.
Prendimi was beaten a half-length when second to Forest Fire in 2019 and ran seventh behind Monday Morning Qb in 2020 prior to his front-running neck triumph over favored Tappin Cat at odds of 12-1.
“It was very special because he had finished second before and he had run well in it the year before,” Carvajal said. “I really like Laurel because that’s where I got my first graded-stakes win with Imperial Hint and then we got this one.
“I’m happy to go and compete there and know that I have good horse to compete in that race,” he added. “I’m already excited. It’s horse racing and as long as you take a horse there that you know has a chance, it’s always good.”
A 7-year-old Dances With Ravens gelding whose mare, Cigno d’Oro, Carvajal used to gallop, Prendimi has gone winless in just three starts this year. He ran seventh in the one-mile Sunny Ridge June 12 at Monmouth Park upon return from his usual winter vacation, then finished sixth in an open seven-furlong allowance July 19 at Parx.
In his most recent start, Prendimi set the pace before tiring to be fourth, beaten less than five lengths, in the 1 1/16-mile Charles Hesse III Aug. 28 at Monmouth. His only tries at 1 1/8 miles have come in his three Classic attempts.
“He’s doing good. It’s been a pretty slow year, but this year it’s been tougher to get him fit because he’s older and he’s a big horse,” Carvajal said. “It seems like he’s there now. He looks great and I think he’s going to peak at the right moment, so that’s always good news.
“I’ve had him since he was 2 years old and now he’s pushing 8. To have the horse from a young age is great. He doesn’t run a lot but he always tries. Last year was very special, very emotional for everyone. It always feels good. Last year I was really impressed with Prendimi,” he added. “It’s a tough race but you have to run the race. Just to be there and go back in the same race, it’s great.”
Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, Prendimi will break from Post 10 of 11 with Paco Lopez up.
Monday Morning Qb won the 2019 Heft at Laurel as a 2-year-old and came off the bench to run second in the 2020 Federico Tesio, delayed from April to September amid the coronavirus pandemic. Two starts later he sprung his own 6-1 upset in the Classic, beating historic Pimlico Special (G3) winner Harpers First Ride by 3 ¼ lengths.
The now 5-year-old son of Imagining went to the sidelines soon after and didn’t race again for nearly 19 months until running sixth in a 6 ½-furlong allowance June 21 at Parx. He finished third in two subsequent starts – beating Prendimi July 19 – and was claimed for $62,500 Aug. 24 at Delaware Park.
Monday Morning Qb faded to be last of seven after setting the pace in the first start for his new connections, the one-mile, 70-yard Governors Day Handicap Oct. 1 at Delaware, but owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash is excited about bringing both he and multiple stakes-winning stablemate Double Crown – second in the 2021 Sprint – back to the Maryland Million.
“I’m getting jazzed about the Maryland Million,” Cash said. “I’d think Double Crown will probably be the favorite going long there, and Monday Morning Qb won that race as a 3-year-old. I’m looking forward to it.”
Shortly after joining his Laurel string, Cash paired Monday Morning Qb with veteran stakes winner Galerio for morning works to get a line on his ability and came away impressed with the new acquisition.
“He was gone a year and a half, but that horse can run,” Cash said. “When we worked him with Galerio, who is another running machine, Monday Morning Qb outworked him by three lengths going five furlongs. It was an amazing work.
“The day I claimed him he was up front and then he settled in and ran fourth, got beat a couple lengths. I think most trainers, they run horses and they almost always need a race or two,” he added. “They ran him once in an open allowance and then they put him up for the tag. I’ve had a lot of success claiming that very horse.”
Cash claimed Double Crown for $40,000 out of a runner-up finish June 5 at Churchill Downs and he has one win and three seconds from six subsequent starts. A two-time stakes winner that is twice Grade 3-placed, Double Crown was second last out in the 1 1/16-mile Polynesian Sept. 24 at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Since bringing Double Crown into the fold, Cash has not been afraid to try him in various spots including the 5 ½-furlong Ben’s Cat on the Laurel turf July 30 and the one-mile, 70-yard Peach Street on Presque Isle’s all-weather surface Aug. 22.
“He runs good on every surface. He ran good on the turf, we just didn’t have the distance to get him there. He needs it a little longer,” Cash said. “It seems like they stretched him out before I got him and it seemed to be working. Knock on wood, he’s really been running nice for us.”
Double Crown gets the services of Horacio Karamanos from Post 3 and is second choice on the morning line at 9-2, while Monday Morning Qb was made a 15-1 long shot with apprentice William Humphrey from outermost Post 11.
Happy Got Lucky Stable, Inc.’s Ournationonparade is the 5-2 program favorite for the Classic, racing first off the claim for trainer Jamie Ness, a career winner of nearly 3,800 races seeking his second in the Maryland Million following Odd Gal in the 2020 Distaff Starter Handicap.
Ournationonparade won the 2019 Maryland Million Nursery for his prior connections before relocating to South Florida where he raced through last summer. Ness gave $50,000 to get Ournationonparade out of a 2 ¼-length win sprinting seven furlongs Sept. 28 at Churchill, the third time in nine starts dating back to last November where the 5-year-old Cal Nation gelding was claimed.
“We kind of claimed him purposely to hopefully run in this race and he’ strained good for it. We’re looking forward to it,” Ness said. “He looked like a horse that was worth it whether he was Maryland-bred or sired or not. It looked like he was a legit horse, but having this race coming up we decided to go in and try to get the horse. We went to a five-way shake to get him and I think most of the people shaking with me had the same thing in mind. I got lucky in that regard. He’s been moving forward so we’re ready to go.”
Ournationonparade has yet to go the distance of the Classic and has only been around two turns once in his last 10 starts, though he was a 9 ¾-length winner of a second-level optional claiming allowance going 1 1/16 miles Aug. 2 at Horseshoe Indiana.
“That’s the elephant in the room, the distance. We had this race and the Sprint, but I think he’d be a little bit better in this race than that one. I think we’ve got him ready, so it’s up to him now,” Ness said. “He’s just a classy horse, No issues. I just hope I can get out of him what the previous trainer did. If we can get on the level of what he did last time, I think he’ll be tough.”
Jaime Rodriguez is named to ride from Post 9.
Distance won’t be an issue for Steve Newby’s Vance Scholars, the lone 3-year-old in the field attempting to become just the third sophomore to win the Classic following Monday Morning Qb and Bonus Points (2017).
Vance Scholars became a stakes winner in his seasonal debut, the Aug. 6 Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel, rained off the grass and contested at 1 3/16 miles. Following a disappointing effort in the 1 1/8-mile Virginia Derby (G3), the Holy Boss gelding ran second in the 1 ½-mile Cape Henlopen and third by a length in an off-the-turf Japan Turf Cup Oct. 1 at Laurel, run at 1 ¼ miles.
“He’s doing well and he likes the distance, so hopefully he’ll run a good race. I thought last time he ran a tremendous race,” trainer Dale Capuano said. “He was pressed on a very fast pace going a mile and a quarter. The ones that were with him got beat about 50 lengths and he got beat a length, so I think he’s pretty gritty. Hopefully he’ll run like he has been.”
Capuano is the all-time leading trainer in Maryland Million history with 14 wins, including the 2006 Classic with Due. Saturday will be Vance Scholars’ third straight race against his elders.
“He’s been facing older horses right along. The Bald Eagle was 3-year-olds, and he beat those. He’s gritty, so he’ll try,” Capuano said. “If you can win any race on Maryland Million Day, it’s always a big deal because none of those races are easy. For this horse to be a 3-year-old, if he could be lucky enough to pull it off that’d be pretty good. It would be nice for him.”
Co-third choice at 9-2, Vance Scholars will be ridden by Jorge Ruiz from Post 7.
Besides Prendimi, four other horses return from last year’s Classic led by Non Stop Stable’s Tappin Cat, a nine-time career winner of nearly $480,000 in purses that also ran third in the 2019 Classic. Trained by Gary Capuano, Tappin Cat (Post 2, 8-1) won his second career stakes July 7 in the one-mile Sussex at Delaware Park.
Deborah Greene and Hamilton Smith’s homebred The Poser (Post 6, 8-1) and Marie Trombetta’s Torch of Truth (Post 4, 10-1) respectively ran third and fourth, separated by a half-length, last year. The Poser has a win and two seconds – beaten a half-length combined – in his last three starts while Torch of Truth, also seeking his first stakes win, returned from more than six months away to be sixth in the seven-furlong Challedon Oct. 1 at Laurel but owns a win from three lifetime tries at the distance.
Matt Spencer, Kelly Jo Cox and Bonuccelli Racing’s Ain’t Da Beer Cold (Post 5, 6-1) set the pace for a half-mile but faded to be eighth at odds of 25-1 in last year’s Classic but takes a two-race win streak into his return, having captured back-to-back 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowances over the summer at Laurel and Timonium. Robert Vukelic-bred, owned and trained Crouchelli (Post 8, 20-1), winless in nine starts this year, joins Prendimi with his fourth Classic appearance having run sixth last year, eighth in 2019 and fifth in 2018.
Also entered is Sean Gardner and MTH Affiliates’ Virginia Fulla (Post 1, 30-1), a winner of three straight since being claimed for $5,000 by trainer Daniel McKenzie Aug. 26 at Timonium. He finished second but was placed first after being bumped late in an off-the-turf claiming event going one mile Oct. 8 at Laurel.
Maryland-breds on the also-eligible list, based on money won since last year’s Classic are, in order: Hillwood Stable’s Cordmaker (7-5), an 10-time stakes winner unraced since becoming a graded winner in the Feb. 19 General George (G3) at Laurel; and Larry Rabold’s Benandjoe (12-1), a last out optional claiming allowance winner Sept. 24 at Pimlico.