Posted: Sept. 16, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

The Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) returns to Laurel Park Saturday, Sept. 18, with four stakes and multiple opportunities for horses to solidify their positions in the 2021 standings.

On tap are the $200,000, Grade III Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt division); $100,000 Weathervane (Filly and Mare Sprint—Dirt division); $100,000 Polynesian (3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt division); and the $100,000 Twixt (Filly and Mare Long—Dirt division). The two sprint stakes are the fifth of six in their divisions, while the other two are the fourth of six in their divisions.

The 11-race program kicks off at 12:40 p.m.

De Francis Dash (six furlongs)

Hillwood Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, an 8-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Cuba, will make his fifth series start, the most of any horse in the series this season. A fifth start carries with it 3 bonus points.

In his last start, Laki finished seventh in the Chesapeake Stakes at Colonial Downs in his first race on the dirt surface there. Trainer Damon Dilodovico said Laki didn’t appear to care for it—it was a little harder than he likes—but has taken to the new dirt surface at Laurel since his return from Pimlico Race Course in late August.

Laki, who has more than $830,000 in career earnings, won last year’s De Francis Dash, which was held at Pimlico. He won the Frank Whiteley Stakes at Pimlico in April and, though he hasn’t won a MATCH stakes this year, he is second in the standings with 18 points—two behind Mucho, whose connections opted to prepare him for a graded stakes in Kentucky in early October.

“He tends to circle back every fourth start or so and really launches a good number,” Dilodovico said. “Hopefully he’s sitting on one of those.”

Regular rider Horacio Karamanos will be aboard.

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables’ Wondrwherecraigis, trained by Brittany Russell, will make his MATCH Series debut. The Laurel-based 4-year-old Munnings gelding is three-for-four this year and in his last start won the Tale of the Cat Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

Jevian Toledo will ride Wondrwherecraigis.

Weathervane Stakes (six furlongs)

Larry Johnson’s Never Enough Time rounded back into top form in two outings at Colonial, including a sharp second-place finish in the Seeking the Pearl Stakes, fourth leg of the division. Trained by Mike Trombetta, the 5-year-old Maryland-bred mare by Munnings will pick up 5 bonus points for her fourth series start—the most of any horse in the division.

Never Enough Time is based at Fair Hill Training Center and will make her first appearance on the new Laurel dirt surface.

“She has been training very well, and I’m excited about running her in this race,” Trombetta said. “All is good. We hope to be in this race and the (final leg of the division Dec. 26 at Laurel).”

Regular rider Julian Pimentel is named aboard Never Enough Time.

The probable heavy favorite is Hello Beautiful, the Russell trainee who will make her third MATCH Series start and thus qualify for bonus money. Owned by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables, Hello Beautiful has won seven of 11 starts and last out won the Alma North Stakes at Pimlico.

Russell earlier had said the 4-year-old Maryland-bred filly by Golden Lad prefers time between races, so the connections opted not to make the trip to Colonial. The Weathervane was the target, she said.

With 17 points, Hello Beautiful is second in the standings, three behind Chub Wagon. The latter raced in two stakes at Parx Racing within a two-week period in late August and early September and would need to compete in the final division leg at the end of the year to qualify for bonus money.

Toledo has the call on Hello Beautiful as regular rider Sheldon Russell is out of action with a foot injury.

Polynesian Stakes (one-turn mile)

Hillwood Stable’s Cordmaker took the division lead at 18 points with a win in the Victory Gallop Stakes at Colonial and is the only horse to have started in the first three legs of the division. The 6-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Curlin will pick up 5 bonus points with a start in the Polynesian.

Cordmaker, who has won 10 times and is closing in on $700,000 in career earnings for trainer Rodney Jenkins, on Sept. 10 breezed four furlongs in :46.40, the fastest of 40 works at the distance that morning.

“He worked great and was very tough going to the pole,” said jockey Victor Carrasco, his regular rider. “He’s doing very good.”

McElmore Avenue, second to Cordmaker in the Victory Gallop in his first MATCH Series start, will be ridden by Karamanos for Mary Eppler Racing Stable and RAM Racing Stable. Eppler trains the 4-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by El Padrino.

McElmore Avenue was claimed by Eppler for $16,000 in November 2020 and since then has four wins and four seconds from nine outings. He is based at Pimlico and could be a division factor should he race in the Polynesian and the last two legs of the series.

Twixt Stakes (one-turn mile)

Mrs. Orb, owned by Ruggeri Stable, Richard Coburn, Script R Farm and trainer Mike Miceli, is entered in the Twixt and would make her second series start. The 6-year-old New York-bred mare by Orb is currently tied with two other fillies and mares at the top of the standings with 10 points.

Mrs. Orb won the Caesar’s Wish Stakes at Pimlico in her first MATCH Series start. She has performed well at the one-turn-mile distance in New York and will be ridden by Karamanos, who was aboard in the Caesar’s Wish.

Full of Run Racing and Madaket Stables’ Dreamalildreamofu, trained by Brad Cox, was second in the first leg of the division, the Grade III Allaire DuPont Stakes at Pimlico in May. The 4-year-old Kentucky bred filly by Commissioner will be ridden by Toledo.

The next MATCH Series stakes at Laurel are the $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go (Filly and Mare Long—Dirt division) Nov. 13 and the $100,000 Richard Small Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt division) Nov. 27. The series will conclude with all four divisions represented Dec. 26 at Laurel.