Edited Laurel Staff Release – Seeking a place to help Air Token rediscover his winning form, owner-trainer Jose Corrales will give the 5-year-old gelding a shot to become the first repeat winner of the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel Park.
The Sprint for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Distaff for fillies and mares 3 and older, both going seven furlongs, are among eight stakes and four starter stakes on the 37th Jim McKay Maryland Million program, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.
Highlighted by the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up, first race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Other than the $100,000 Nursery and $100,000 Lassie, which are restricted to 2-year-olds, the Sprint is the only major Maryland Million race not to have a horse win it twice since the groundbreaking event was launched in 1986. In addition to Air Token, this year’s event includes 2020 winner Karan’s Notion.
After facing just seven rivals last year, Air Token drew Post 12 in an overflow field of 16 for the Sprint that includes also-eligibles Rominski and Katie’s Notion.
Jockey J.D. Acosta gave Air Token a perfect trip en route to his 2 ¼-length triumph in last year’s Sprint, and was also aboard for a neck loss when third in the subsequent Howard & Sondra Bender Memorial as well as a five-length optional claiming allowance win to open his campaign Jan. 21.
Air Token raced twice more, finishing fifth in the General George (G3) and third in the Not For Love, before going to the sidelines in mid-March. He was fifth in return Sept. 3 at Delaware Park as well as his most recent start, the seven-furlong Challedon Oct. 1 at Laurel.
“He hasn’t run his best this year, but I think he will be better this time. I’m going to use J.D. again, who has won with him,” Corrales said. “He had a little issue that made me back off him a little bit. He came back good from the last race and he’s doing good right now. I feel good going in this race that he’s going to really perform, better than what he has been.”
Claimed for $10,000 in August 2020, Air Token is 4-for-8 lifetime at the distance including three wins in six tries at Laurel with one second and one third. Since last year’s Sprint he has been beaten by multiple stakes winners such as Whereshetoldmetogo, Cordmaker, Threes Over Deuces and Shackqueenking.
“It depends on how the race sets up for him, but he’ll be tough,” Corrales said. “He was very impressive last year, and he can do pretty much the same thing if things go the right way. The way he feels right now, if he runs the way he feels I think he’ll be as competitive as last year.”
Whiskey and You, Fortheluvofbourbon and Karan’s Notion also return from last year’s Sprint. Terry Overmier’s Whiskey and You has not won since last April, finishing fifth in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) and fourth in the Sprint in subsequent starts last fall.
Smart Angle’s Fortheluvofbourbon enters the Sprint on a roll, having won five consecutive races including three stakes – the Page McKenney and Banjo Picker Sprint against fellow Pennsylvania-breds and the open Liberty Bell sprinting 6 ½ furlongs Oct. 3, all at his home base of Parx. He will be trying Laurel for the first time since last year’s Maryland Million.
Karan’s Notion has been in good form lately as he heads into his 31st career start. In his last three starts the 5-year-old Great Notion gelding ran second in back-to-back optional claiming allowances, beaten less than two lengths combined, and third behind Alwaysinahurry and Grade 3 winner Wondrwherecraigis in the Sept. 18 race at Pimlico. Bred, owned and trained by Nancy Heil, he posted a front-running 16-1 upset of the 2020 Sprint.
Mopo Racing’s Alwaysinahurry beat Air Token in his most recent race, a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Sept. 18 at historic Pimlico Race Course, coming with a steady late rally to nail Wondrwherecraigis on the wire. A 4 ¾-length winner of the Concern who ran second in the Star de Naskra to Grade 3 winner Jaxon Traveler last summer, both sprinting six furlongs, the 4-year-old Alwaysinahurry finished second behind then-stablemate Kenny Had a Notion in the 2020 Maryland Million Nursery.
“He ran really well last time at Pimlico and won. He was second in the Maryland Million as a 2-year-old, so I expect him to run well,” trainer Dale Capuano said. “He beat a really nice horse last time. He ran him down after he was a couple lengths in front of him, so that was pretty impressive.
“I thought he probably should have won a couple more races this year but he’s had some bad luck in them, although the last one worked out well,” he added. “We’ve been waiting for this race and hopefully he shows up like he did last time. If he does, I think he’ll be OK.”
Also entered are Elusive Agent, Going to the Lead, Goldenize, Heir Port, Hemp, Local Motive, Memory Bouquet, Redeem Eddie and Treasure Tradition.
Fille d’Esprit Takes Another Shot at $100,000 Distaff
When she ran in last year’s $100,00 Maryland Million Distaff, C J I Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm’s Fille d’Esprit hadn’t raced in more than 10 months. She returns Saturday with a foundation of 10 races under her including a trio of stakes wins that has trainer and co-owner Jerry Robb feeling good about a shot at redemption.
Claimed for $10,000 in August 2020 following her third career start after going unraced at 2 and 3, Fille d’Esprit ended her 4-year-old campaign on a four-race win streak. Robb was unable to bring her back until last year’s Distaff, facing the likes of multiple stakes winners Street Lute, her stablemate, Malibu Beauty and Hello Beautiful, who made history as just the seventh horse to win three Maryland Million races.
“Last year the Maryland Million was her first race off that long layoff. She had a different rider on her and she didn’t break good, and nothing went good that day,” Robb said. “I think we’ll see a whole different filly this year.”
Fille d’Esprit owns three wins, three seconds and two thirds in 2022, and earned the top spot in the filly and mare 3-year-old and up dirt sprint division of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series. She finished with 32 points, six shy of Deciding Vote for the overall MATCH Series title.
“She’s been a wonderful horse for us all along,” Robb said. “She should have won the MATCH Series championship but I bypassed the first [sprint] race with her because I had three of them for it. I ran two of them in it and ran her in the mile race and she finished second. She only ended up losing by a few points. Other than that, every race that we’ve put her in she’s shown up.”
Though she has run well at tracks such as Parx, Charles Town, Colonial Downs, Penn National and historic Pimlico Race Course, Fille d’Esprit has thrived on her home course of Laurel, where she is 8-for-15 lifetime. Overall she has 10 wins from 21 starts and is less than $2,000 away from $500,00 in purse earnings.
“I think she’s getting better as she’s getting older. From the day I’ve had her, each race has been better and better,” Robb said. “Looking at this race, I have to believe she’s one of the favorites in there.”
ZWP Stable, Inc. and Non Stop Stable’s Malibu Beauty will be a formidable foe, having finished third or better in 16 of 22 career starts with seven wins including the 2021 Miss Disco at Laurel and July 6 Peach Blossom. Most recently, the 4-year-old Buffum filly was a front-running eight-length winner of the 1 1/16-mile George Rosenberger Memorial Oct. 1; like the one-mile Peach Blossom, it was rained off the grass to Delaware Park’s main track.
Both Malibu Beauty and Liberty House Racing’s Courageous Girl were pre-entered in and under consideration for the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic before the connections settled on the Distaff. Courageous Girl, third in the seven-furlong La Verdad against New York-breds Jan. 2 at Aqueduct, exits a 3 ½-length optional claiming allowance triumph July 21 at Delaware going a mile and 70 yards.
Mario Serey Jr. owned-and-trained Breviary and Robert D. Bone’s Fool Yourself respectively ran first and third in the 1 1/16-mile Timonium Distaff Aug. 27 – a race where Malibu Beauty was second. Breviary has raced twice since, finishing fourth in the Oct. 1 Twixt at Laurel, while Fool Yourself has yet to race back.
Also entered are Pepe Stable’s Bourbon Wildcat, last out winner of an off-the-turf 5 ½-furlong allowance Oct. 7 at Laurel; Warwick Stable’s twice stakes-placed Sweet Gracie; Francis Poggi and Greycross Stable’s Wicked Hot, a maiden and allowance winner last spring at Pimlico that ran second by a half-length in an open Saratoga allowance two starts back; and Diana McClure owned-and-trained Summer Odds.
Maryland-breds on the also-eligible list are Holly Hill Stables’ Edie Meeny Miny Mo, winner of the six-furlong Regret July 2 at Monmouth Park; and R B’s Star, popular winner of a restricted six-furlong allowance Sept. 25 at Pimlico for Bone and co-owner Edward J. Brown Jr.’s