Posted: May 14, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

Last Judgment and Spice Is Nice both made their Pimlico Race Course debuts count with victories in the first two stakes of the 2021 MATCH Series May 14 at the Maryland racetrack.

Last Judgment won the $150,000 Grade III Pimlico Special (3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt division) while Spice Is Nice took the $150,000 Grade III Allaire DuPont Stakes (Filly and Mare Long–Dirt division). The two Friday MATCH Series races combined to produce $4,664,974 in pari-mutuel handle on a successful Preakness Stakes eve card that feature the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

The MATCH Series kickoff weekend continues Saturday, May 15, with two six-furlong events: the $150,000 Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division) and the $100,000 Runhappy Skipat Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt Division).

Last Judgment, owned by Michael Dubb, Steve Hornstock, Bethlehem Stables and Nice Guys Stables, was claimed for $62,500 in October 2020 in New York and now has two wins and a second-place finish in Grade III stakes. The owners said they identified the horse for a claim based on the numbers and trying to improve upon them.

“He had run well in 1 1/8-mile races so we figured he would stretch out (to the Pimlico Special distance),” Maker said. “We were a little concerned with the outside post but he handled it.”

“We haven’t thought of anything further for him than today’s race,” Maker said.

Last Judgment, bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds in Florida, covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54.37 and won by 1 3/4 lengths on a track rated fast. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, the 5-year-old gelding by Congrats returned $11.80 to win and was followed home by Modernist, Fearless and Maryland favorite Cordmaker. Last Judgment now has eight victories in 18 starts for earnings close to $500,000.

The next scheduled stakes in the division is the $100,000 Deputy Testimony at 1 1/8 miles at Laurel Park July 31.

In the Allaire DuPont at 1 1/8 miles, Lawana and Robert Low’s Spice Is Nice ran her 2021 record to two-for-two with a comfortable victory in the sixth start of her career. Ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher, Spice Is Nice paid $6.60 to win as the second choice in an eight-horse field.

The 4-year-old Curlin filly broke alertly and closely shadowed front-running Dreamalildreamofu for three-quarters of a mile before taking a short lead on the far turn. Spice Is Nice gradually increased her lead and defeated Dreamalildreamofu by 1 1/2 lengths in a good 1:48.71 for the distance on a track rated fast. Getridofwhatailesu finished third, with favored Horologist fourth.

Last August at Saratoga Race Course, Pletcher tried Spice Is Nice in the Grade I Alabama Stakes after she won a Belmont Park allowance race. The filly was competitive before fading to finish far back, and her connections opted to put her on the shelf for a while. She returned to the races April 9 at Keeneland and won an allowance race as the heavy favorite.

“We regrouped with her and gave her some time off, and it looks like it paid dividends,” Pletcher said. “With the time off (in the fall and winter) she put on some weight. This was the perfect prep–it was good timing.”

As for future races for the filly bred by B. Flay Thoroughbreds, Pletcher said: “We’ll look at everything. We think she’s a top-class filly.”

The next scheduled stakes in the division is the $100,000 Caesar’s Wish at one mile at Laurel July 4. If it is run at Pimlico, the distance would most likely change to 1 1/16 miles.

The MATCH Series, the only one of its kind in racing, will feature 24 stakes–20 of them in Maryland and four at Colonial Downs–valued at $2.75 million. Bonus money totals $282,000 for 2021. The series will conclude Dec. 26 at Laurel with the final races in each of this year’s four divisions.

Owners and trainers will compete for $63,000 in divisional bonuses and the overall MATCH Series champion will net $30,000 in bonuses for its owner and trainer. In addition, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association will pay a $3,000 bonus to the breeder of the top points-earning Maryland-bred and $3,000 for the top points-earning Maryland-sired horse. If the top points-earner is both Maryland-bred and -sired, the breeder would get $6,000.

(Photo of Last Judgment by Jim McCue)