The 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division begins with a look familiar to that of last year with the top two horses by points set to battle again in the $100,000 Frank J. Whiteley Stakes at Laurel Park April 20.
Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki captured the division last year with a second-place finish in the grade III Frank J. De Francis Memorial Stakes at Laurel. Linda Zang’s Lewisfield finished fifth in that event and had to settle for second.
The fourth leg of the division, the Polynesian Stakes at Laurel, made the difference–Lewisfield finished first but disqualified and placed second behind Laki.
Lewisfield, trained by Jeff Runco, began 2019 with a sharp win the Not For Love Stakes at Laurel. His trainer his hoping his 5-year-old season is his best yet. Laki finished third in both the Not For Love and grade III General Stakes at Laurel and enters the Whiteley off of a sharp local work.
Laurel leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez entered a legitimate pair in the Whiteley: Joseph Besecker’s Mr. Brix, who has made good on his claim for $50,000 last fall, and Super C Racing’s Rockinn On Bye, who has dangerous late kick and split Lewisfield and Laki in the Not For Love.
New York-based Killybegs Captain, owned by Curragh Racing II and trained by John Terranova II, shows back-to-back strong efforts in two stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, including a fast victory in the six-furlong Pelican Stakes. He cuts back from 1 1/16 miles and appears to never have been better.
Hillside Equestrian Meadows Laki, winner of the division last year after starting in all five stakes in his division, is the leader so far this year after a strong 3 1/2-length win over Linda Zang’s Lewisfield, who was second in the division in 2018.
Lewisfield, who defeated Laki in the March 16 Not For Love Stakes at Laurel in their previous meeting, opened a two-length lead in the stretch in the Whiteley but couldn’t contain Laki, who pulled away late under Horacio Karamanos to win the six-furlong test in 1:08.47. Super C Racing’s Rockinn On Bye closed well as usual for third.
Laki, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Cuba, had a pair of third-place finishes in stakes this year before the Whiteley.
“He was a little flat earlier this year, but that’s over with,” trainer Damon Dilodovico said. “Today’s a much better day. Going into his last race he just didn’t seem into it. Horacio had a few ideas, which we tried, and he picked it up going into this race. Even though he’s a seasoned horse, somethings you change things up and it’s positive. He was dynamite today.”
“He went really fast today,” Karamanos said. “He was moving nicely at the eighth-pole. I had the opportunity to go outside (of Lewisfield) and he gave me a nice kick and he responded well.”
Laki won for the eighth time in 19 starts and pushed his earnings over the $400,000 mark. He appears to be headed to Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course for the second round of the MATCH Series June 1 rather than making a start in a Preakness week stakes.
“If he comes out of this race well we’re going to stick with the MATCH Series,” Dilodovico said. “His two starts at Pimlico just weren’t that good.”
Laki collected 10 points for his Whiteley score, followed by Lewisfield (7), and Rockinn On Bye (5) to round out the top three.