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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


LAUREL PARK STAFF RELEASE – The 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, won’t be casually dismissed as the connections contemplate a next start for Joe, resolute winner of the $125,000 Federico Tesio Saturday at Laurel Park.

            The Elkstone Group homebred pressed a solid pace for a half-mile, straightened for home with a 2 ½-length lead, momentarily lost it to Mike Trombetta-trained stablemate Mr Jefferson in mid-stretch and fought back to earn a head victory in the 1 1/8-mile Tesio.

            “We were really happy,” Elkstone’s Stuart Grant said Sunday. “When he was headed in the stretch I was a little nervous, but the horse really showed what he was made of and dug in well and prevailed. We were excited. I think it really showed what kind of horse he is.”

            For the seventh straight year, the Tesio offers Triple Crown-nominated horses an automatic berth in the $1.5 million Preakness at historic Pimlico Race Course, this year on May 21. Joe is not among the Triple Crown nominees, but horses can supplement to the race for $150,000 when entries are taken.

            “Mike and I have talked, and the horse came back good. We’ll see what our plan is over the next week or so. He ran a gutsy race,” Grant said. “We always think about things, but as my son, Sam, said to me, ‘It’s one thing to qualify, it’s another thing to be good enough.’ We sort of got ourselves in if we want, but I’m just not sure if we’re good enough yet. I’m waiting to see what the numbers are that come back. He’s improved each race and we’ve been happy, and we’ll see.”

            Trombetta said after the race that he would “love to” take a shot in the Preakness with Joe, Maryland’s champion 2-year-old male of 2021. He praised Grant’s approach to the promising Declaration of War colt, who had won three straight races – including the Maryland Juvenile in December and his two-turn debut Jan. 23 to launch his sophomore campaign – before running second to Shake Em Loose in the March 19 Private Terms.

            “He’s been very grounded through the whole process. We never had any conversations about Fair Grounds or Oaklawn or New York or anything,” Trombetta said. “He said, ‘Let’s bring him through Maryland and see where he takes us.’ I think he wanted to let the horse do the talking for him.”

            First run in 1981 at Pimlico, a total of 22 Tesio winners have gone on to run in the Preakness, the last being Alwaysmining in 2019. Maryland-bred Deputed Testamony, in 1983, is the only horse to sweep both races. Happy Saver won the Tesio in 2020 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher to stay undefeated and preview a next-out victory over older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

            “Even if we pass on the Preakness, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some other nice races to go to and, of course, there’s a lot of other races in Maryland,” Grant said. “It wouldn’t be horrible if we spent the year on the Maryland stakes circuit. It would make it a really fun year.”

            Owner-trainer Rudy Sanchez-Salomon said the Preakness remains in play for J R Sanchez Racing Stable’s Shake Em Loose. The claimer-turned-multiple stakes winner ran third in the Tesio, five lengths behind the top pair, to snap a two-race win streak.

            Shake Em Loose brushed with 75-1 long shot Baltimore Bulleit out of the gate, raced between horses in second around the first turn, dropped back to four after a half-mile and was fifth tracking horses entering the far turn. He moved with Mr Jefferson and raced on even terms with the runner-up to the top of the stretch, where Mr Jefferson tipped outside and split horses to make a run at the leader while Shake Em Loose dropped down to the rail for his bid.

            “He came out really good. He wasn’t too tired. Unfortunately he got a little stuck in there and had a bad trip. Oh well, it’s horse racing,” Sanchez-Salomon said. “I never doubt him. Believe me, I’m so proud of him. He’s got a lot of heart.”

            Sanchez-Salomon nominated Shake Em Loose to the Triple Crown at the late March 28 deadline for $6,000, and plans to give strong consideration to the Preakness.

            “I’m still looking forward to it. After we unsaddled him after the race, I was hosing him and he wasn’t even breathing hard. I was hosing him really good and he was just breathing normal, like after a gallop,” he said. “It depends on how it goes the next couple days. We’re going to go day by day, but I see in him a lot of potential still.”

            Serving as co-headliner on the first of back-to-back Spring Stakes Spectacular Saturdays was the $125,000 Weber City Miss for 3-year-old fillies, an automatic qualifier for the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) May 20 at Pimlico.

            Luna Belle extended her win streak to five stakes with a 3 ¾-length triumph in the Weber City Miss, her first race around two turns, and improved to 4-0 this year. Owned by Deborah Greene and trainer Hamilton Smith and bred by Smith, Greene and her late father, Fred Greene Jr., Luna Belle was Maryland’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2021.

            Following her win, Smith said Luna Belle would be pointed to a next start in the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan, followed by a short break. Luna Belle has run at least once a month since last July and could become the first filly to sweep both races; 2017 Weber City Miss winner Lights of Medina was second by a head in the Black-Eyed Susan.

            “I’ll tell you, she never acts like the races have bothered her. I know everybody thinks I haven’t given her a break yet, and I’ve thought about it many a time,” Smith said. “But she comes out of these races in fantastic shape and she acts like she’s no worse for wear. The horses are born to run, so we just keep her running.”

            Greene has had horses with Smith by herself and with her late father, including six-figure earners Moon Virginia, three times stakes-placed, and The Poser, who ran third in the 2021 Maryland Million Classic.

            “I once heard somebody say in the winner’s circle at the Maryland Million that this was a dream come true. This really isn’t a dream come true, because I never dreamed this much,” Greene said. “And it’s all in honor of my father. He was the breeder, the breeder of the mare, and raced the grand dam. I’m just thrilled. And now I’m dreaming a lot bigger

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