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BIG LAUREL PARK FALL FINALE

HRI Edited Release — Matt Schera’s Isotherm, a two-time graded-stakes winner on the turf, will cut back to a dirt sprint for only the second time in his career and the first time in 20 months in Saturday’s $100,000 Dave’s Friend.

The six-furlong Dave’s Friend for 3-year-olds and up is one of five stakes worth $500,000 in purses on the nine-race Christmastide Day program. Laurel will open its doors at 11 a.m. with a 12:25 p.m. first post.

Bred in Australia, the 6-year-old Isotherm will be making his 28th career start in the Dave’s Friend and third since joining the barn of trainer James ‘Chuck’ Lawrence II.

Though 16 of his first 19 races came on turf, Isotherm has made seven of his last eight on dirt including a fifth-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Swatara Stakes Nov. 27 at Penn National last time out, when he was ridden by Laurel regular Victor Carrasco.

In his debut for Lawrence, based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., Isotherm was fifth in the Autumn (G2) Nov. 3 over Woodbine’s all-weather surface, also contested at 1 1/16 miles, where he ran into traffic along the inside while making his run.

“In the race at Penn, Victor tapped him on the shoulder and he kind of took off with him and Victor lost his iron on the front end, so I’ve kind of thrown that race out,” Lawrence said. “He actually ran a pretty nice race up in Canada; he just got shut off the last part of it.

“He’s had some adversity in both his starts for me,” he added. “Matt said he’s always wanted to try him in a sprint. This is right here in our backyard and it’s going to be a short field so we thought we’d take a shot.”

Isotherm drew far outside Post 8 in the Dave’s Friend, where he will carry 120 pounds including jockey Forest Boyce. Stakes winner Home Run Maker, racing for the first time since June 1, is the 122-pound topweight.

In his career Isotherm has raced less than a mile three previous times, running fourth at six furlongs in his Aug. 1, 2015 unveiling over Saratoga’s main track. He also was second in the 2016 Dania Beach (G3) going 7 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream Park and most recently third in the 6 ½-furlong San Simeon (G3) April 29, 2018 at Santa Anita.

Winner of the 2015 Pilgrim (G3) in his third career start and 2017 San Marcos (G2), both for previous trainer George Weaver, Isotherm is following in the footsteps of stablemate Paret, co-owned by Schera and trained by Lawrence.

Paret was third when sprinting 5 ½ furlongs in the Rainbow Heir Stakes Sept. 28 at Monmouth Park, part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series, then stretched back out to 1 ½ miles when second in the Point of Entry Stakes Oct. 13 at Belmont Park at odds of 22-1.

“We had good luck [cutting back] before with Paret,” Lawrence said. “It’s more of just because he hasn’t done it in a while to try it and see. He acts like he’s got some speed. I think he’d be a closing sprinter. It’s a small field [so] it might be a good opportunity to take a chance and try it.”

Hockey Puck Looking to Net Open Stakes

Already a state-bred stakes winner, Wagon Wheel Farm’s homebred Hockey Puck takes aim at matching the feat in open company in Saturday’s $100,000 Heft Stakes at Laurel Park.

The Heft for 2-year-olds is one of two $100,000 stakes for juveniles on the Christmastide Day program, along with the Gin Talking for 2-year-old fillies. Both races are contested at seven furlongs.

 Trained by Penn National-based Erin McClellan, Hockey Puck enters the Heft off a half-length triumph in the seven-furlong Pennsylvania Nursery Dec. 7 at Parx, where he also registered his other career win with a neck decision in a six-furlong maiden special weight Sept. 2 – both at odds of 13-1.

In between, Hockey Puck was shipped to New York and finished fourth in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance Nov. 20 at Aqueduct. The Nursery, in which he defeated favored Newstome, winner of Laurel’s James F. Lewis III Stakes Nov. 16, was his lone try against fellow Pennsylvania-breds.

“We really like him. We’ve liked him from the start. He showed a lot of potential from the get-go,” McClellan said. “After he broke his maiden down at Parx, even though we had a couple months to wait, it took a lot of patience but our intention was to shoot for the stakes; not knowing if you can win it, but it was kind of a goal and we actually laid him up for 30 days and brought him back.

 “We were hoping to prep him at home in an allowance race, but couldn’t get anything to go and ended up running in New York in the allowance race up there. I think he was maybe just not ready, but that race still did a lot for him,” she added.

“He surprised everybody on Nursery day. I was very worried about [Newstome]. I honestly went into the race thinking I was running for second. I did think he could do that, but he really showed up. He’s been very much a pleasure to have.”

Hockey Puck drew Post 7 with regular rider Tyler Conner aboard in a nine-horse field that includes Nucky, winner of the Del Mar Futurity (G1) Sept 2.

“He’s naturally tactical. That’s how he wants to run the race,” McClellan said. “He has tactical speed but he’s not a front-end horse and it really works really nicely that he’s willing to settle like that.

You don’t have to worry if there’s any kind of crazy speed in front of you. You can kind of wait. I actually think he wants more than seven-eighths, but that’s all we’ve been able to hit for him so far.”

ThreeWay Battle for Fall Meet Jockey Title

With four days left in the calendar year-ending fall meet, the race for the jockey title is going down to the final weekend.

Sheldon Russell sits atop the standings with 45 wins, two more than both Trevor McCarthy and Alex Cintron. Russell is second with $1.62 million in purse earnings, trailing McCarthy’s $1.97 million.

Russell is a four-time leading rider at Laurel, his most recent title coming at the 2015 winter meet. He led all Maryland riders in wins with 126 in 2011 and ranked second in both 2012 and 2013 before being plagued by injury the last few years.

McCarthy returned to the Maryland circuit full-time last fall after a stint in New York and claimed the fall title, following up by winning Laurel’s winter and spring stands to open 2019. He was second to apprentice Julio Correa during the summer meet, but led all riders with more than $1 million in purse earnings.

A former leading rider at Delaware Park, Cintron is seeking his first Maryland riding title since arriving for the first time in the fall of 2013.

Claudio Gonzalez has already wrapped up the fall meet training title sitting atop the standings with 46 wins, 25 more than runner-up Mike Trombetta. Gonzalez is also first with nearly $1.2 million in purse earnings.

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