Posted: July 16, 2022

By Tom LaMarra

Several horses whose connections committed to the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH Series) early on solidified their positions with strong performances as Laurel Park hosted stakes in all four series divisions July 16.

Laurel Park launched the five-leg MATCH Series in April and hosted the third leg, which produced total pari-mutuel handle of just over $4 million for an 11-race Saturday card. Pennsylvania-bred runners accounted for two wins and one second in two of the stakes. The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association again is offering $5,000 bonuses to the top male and female state-bred runners by overall points.

The MATCH Series now moves to Colonial Downs Tuesday, Aug. 16, with the final leg scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3, at Parx Racing.

$100,000 Alma North Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division)

Daniel Lopez and George Chestnut’s Pennsylvania homebred Chub Wagon continued her domination in non-graded Mid-Atlantic stakes with a powerful victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Alma North, run on a sloppy track after a mid-afternoon thunderstorm. It was the 12th victory in 13 starts for the 5-year-old mare by Hey Chub who has never finished worse than second.

With Silvestre Gonzalez aboard for trained Guadalupe Preciado, Chub Wagon rated in second behind Cheetara before taking over at the half-mile mark and pulling away to a three-length score as the heavy favorite. Kaylasaurus, who has started in the first three legs in her division, rallied from last to second, while Cheetara held for third. The time for the distance was 1:16.03, a little more than one second off the track record.

Chub Wagon made her 2022 debut June 27 in her prior start, an off-the-turf state-bred stakes at Parx Racing, where she is stabled.

“You’re never overconfident going into a race especially when the track gets wet like today,” Preciado said. “All these horses today looked like speed. When you run with all these speed horses you see who has the speed. She’s coming around very nicely. Hopefully she gets a little stronger.”

Chub Wagon picked up 10 points for the win in her first MATCH Series start of the year. Lopez indicated the mare will be pointed to the Satin and Lace Stakes at Presque Isle Downs & Casino Aug. 15. She never has raced on the Tapeta surface, but her performance could be a determining factor in whether she shoots for the Grade II $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes Sept. 19.

Kaylasaurus, owned by Bush Racing Stable, Liberty House Racing, Blackridge Stables and George Saufley, picked up 7 points for her second-place finish and remains the overall series leader with 22 points. The 6-year-old Pennsylvania-bred Munnings mare trained by Tim Kreiser is now poised to have an impact on the division and overall standings.

“I think she raced really well,” said David Bushey, who manages Bush Racing Stable. “We were concerned about the sloppy track, but she did well against Chub Wagon. As of now we’re still thinking about going to Colonial and then finishing the series at Parx. It all depends on how she comes out of the race.”

$150,000 De Francis Memorial Dash (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division)

Beren, owned by St. Omer’s Farm and co-breeder Christopher Feifarek, proved best after a three-way speed duel in the six-furlong De Francis Dash and took the division lead after two MATCH Series starts.

Beren, who has won eight of 18 starts with earnings in excess of $600,000, broke well under Frankie Pennington and was in front through a half-mile in :44.78 while in between Special Reserve and Wondrwherecraigis, both of which were coming into the race off layoffs. Despite the difficult position, the 4-year-old Pennsylvania-bred colt by Weigelia drew clear in the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:09.66. Wondrwherecraigis, a seven-time winner, was second, while Pickin’ Time rallied for third.

“This was a very tough race today,” trainer Robert “Butch” Reid Jr. said. “He had a position between two speed horses but Frankie did a sensational job. I was watching it unfold and Frankie looked very confident.”

“He’s a quick horse who breaks sharply, but the inside horse went for the lead,” Pennington said. “They were dueling down the stretch and I knew it would be a fight, but he ended up opening up the lead on them.”

Beren, who is based at Parx, now has 17 MATCH Series points after two starts and leads his division, which Reid noted appears to be wide open. The trainer said Beren will skip the Colonial leg to compete in a state-bred stakes on “Pennsylvania’s Day at the Races” in late August, and then race in the final MATCH Series leg at Parx.

Pocket 3’s Racing’s Threes Over Deuces, trained by Gary Capuano, finished fifth but made his third series start and qualified for bonus money. He now has 10 points, which ties him for second with two horses that have made only one series start.

$100,000 Big Dreyfus Stakes (Filly and Mare Long–Turf division)

Merriebelle Stable’s Bellagama, trained by Ignacio Correas IV, rallied from ninth and last to win the 1 1/8-mile Big Dreyfus on a turf course rated good after the heavy rain. Ridden by Vincent Cheminaud, who has been based in Kentucky, the 5-year-old mare bred in Argentina previously posted a second and two thirds in stakes company since her arrival in the United States.

“She ran the last time very good (at Hawthorne Race Course),” Cheminaud said. “The grass was a little soft for her, so I preferred to wait a little bit for a good finish.”

Bellagama covered the distance in 1:51.15. She won by 1 1/2 lengths over Deciding Vote, who was neck in front of In a Hurry in third.

Deciding Vote, bred and owned by William Pape, made her third MATCH Series start in the Big Dreyfus and rallied from well back under Angel Suarez, who has ridden the mare in her last three starts. Deciding Vote, trained by Edward Graham, picked up 7 points to give her a total of 20. She qualified for bonus money and remains the division leader with two legs remaining.

$100,000 Prince George’s County Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Turf division)

English Tavern hit the finish first after a stretch duel in the 1 1/8-mile Prince George’s County, but after an inquiry and claim of foul was placed second by the stewards behind Eons, who was just to his outside a nose behind. The elevation to first gave Eons, who won the Bensalem Stakes at Parx in his first MATCH Series start this year, 20 points and the lead in the division.

English Tavern was placed second, while Pixelate was third. Eons, ridden by Jorge Ruiz for owner Mark Grier and trainer Arnaud Delacour, cleared the $500,000 mark in earning with the victory.

“He ran a great race, regardless of the outcome of the inquiry,” Delacour said. “I thought it wasn’t an easy spot for anyone because we didn’t know how to ride the race. There was not a lot of speed, and he’s a pretty difficult horse to ride. I thought considering everything he ran great, and he’s in good form, for sure.”

Eons last year won the 1 1/8-mile Buckland Stakes at Colonial, which this year is the fourth race in his MATCH Series division. The 6-year-old Giant’s Causeway horse is the only horse this year with two victories in a division.