Posted: July 2, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

The local contingent will meet invaders with strong credentials as the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) continues with two $100,000 divisional stakes July 4 at Pimlico Race Course.

The Caesar’s Wish (Filly and Mare Long—Dirt division) and Lite the Fuse (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt division) are slated as races 9 and 10, respectively, on the 11-race holiday card that includes two other stakes. They originally were scheduled for Laurel Park, but the summer meet has been transferred to Pimlico.

The six-furlong Lite the Fuse attracted a field of seven including projected favorite Yaupon, who last raced in late March in a Group I sprint stakes in Dubai. Owned by William and Corinne Heiligbrodt and trained by Steve Asmussen, Yaupon, a four-time winner including the Grade III Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico last October, will use the Lite the Fuse as a prep for upcoming graded stakes. Ricardo Santana Jr. is named to ride.

In from New York is Michael Dubb’s Chateau, who has a win and a second in his last three starts—all graded stakes—at Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack. Chateau, in his only start at Pimlico in 2018, finished second in a maiden special weight event but since then has won seven races and has earned more than $525,000. Maryland-based Charlie Marquez, leading rider at the Pimlico meet, will pick up the mount.

Three horses that competed in the Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes, the first MATCH Series leg in the division, return for the Lite the Fuse: Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki; Pocket 3’s Racing’s Threes Over Deuces, who is cross-entered in a sprint stakes July 3 at Delaware Park; and Euro Stable’s Lebda. They are the only horses entered that have earned MATCH Series points.

Laki and Lebda finished one-two in the Frank Whiteley Stakes at Pimlico in April and returned to finish fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Maryland Sprint. Eight-year-old Laki, who is seeking his third MATCH divisional championship since the series returned in 2018, has rebounded nicely since his last start, trainer Damon Dilodovico said. Regular rider Horacio Karamanos will be aboard.

“I honestly hadn’t looked at the race and how it could shape up,” Dilodovico said. “The main thing with Laki was just trying to keep him good and healthy since his last start. He has been training regularly. Last week I thought his work was a little slow for him, but our other horses went slow as well. He settled early and was asked to finish well, which he did. He was sharp the day after and that continued through the week leading up to the race.”

Lebda has been training forwardly since the Maryland Sprint for trainer Claudio Gonzalez, who has entered Landing Zone, the only filly or mare with MATCH Series points, in the 1 1/16-mile Caesar’s Wish. Landing Zone, who finished an even third in the Regret Stakes at Monmouth Park after a fifth-place in the Grade III Allaire DuPont Stakes at Pimlico, is a multiple stakes-placed 4-year-old filly who went on tear in Maryland and Delaware last year before moving into stakes company.

Landing Zone is currently third in the division standings with 5 points. Angel Cruz will ride.

Mrs. Orb, owned by Ruggeri Stable, Richard Coburn, Script R Farm and trainer Mike Miceli, ships from New York for her first Pimlico start. The 6-year-old mare has amassed more than $463,000 competing mainly in New York-bred stakes but did finish second in a grade III stakes at Aqueduct last November. Karamanos picks up the mount.

Haymarket Farm’s Gracetown will make her stakes debut off of a solid victory in a Pimlico allowance race in early May. The 5-year-old mare is trained by Jerry O’Dwyer and will be ridden by Sheldon Russell, who has ridden her in two of her four victories.

“She’s doing well for us as we’ve stretched her out,” O’Dwyer said. “The owner wanted to breed her at the end of this year, so we’re trying to pick up a little bit of black type for her along the line to enhance her value for the breeding shed.”

The MATCH Series, the only one of its kind in racing, features 24 stakes—20 of them in Maryland and four at Colonial Downs—valued at $2.75 million. Bonus money will be $282,000 for 2021. 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.

The next group of MATCH Series stakes is set for July 31 at Pimlico.