By Tom LaMarra
The MATCH Series moves to Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in the shadow of Blue Mountain June 2 with a pair of turf sprints that drew sizable fields.
The $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division) and $100,000 Penn Ladies Dash (Filly and Mare Sprint–Turf Division) are part of a strong 11-race card headed by the $500,000, grade II Penn Mile for 3-year-olds on the grass. First post time for the Saturday card is 3:45 p.m. EDT.
The two MATCH events at Penn National are the second in their respective divisions, and there are plenty of newcomers. Imprimis, who won the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico Race Course, took a pass on the Governor’s Cup, and Girls Know Best, winner of The Very One Stakes, wasn’t entered in the Penn Ladies Dash.
Imprimis is based at Monmouth Park with trainer Joe Orseno, who after the Pimlico victory said if the 4-year-old gelding owned by Breeze Easy passes on the Penn National race, he would look at the grade III, $200,000 Parx Dash, the third leg of the 3-Year-Old and Up Sprint–Turf Division, on July 7.
The lone entrant in the five-furlong Governor’s Cup that competed in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint is Mary Eppler Racing Stables’ Oak Bluffs, who finished third at Pimlico on a course rated soft that may not have been to his liking. The 8-year-old gelding finished second in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint earlier this year, and last year finished a close fourth, placed third, after a very troubled trip in the Governor’s Cup.
Eppler won the grade III, $100,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park May 26 with fan favorite Page McKenney, who now has 10 points in the series.
Oak Bluffs, bred by Patricia Generazio, is a New Jersey-bred and as such is eligible for a MATCH Series bonus from the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey based on total points accumulated by a colt or gelding. Oak Bluffs currently has 5 points in the series.
The morning-line favorite is Generazio’s Pure Sensation, who finished a good second in his only start this year in a Gulfstream allowance race at five furlongs on the turf. The 7-year-old gelding last year won the grade III Turf Monster Stakes at Parx Racing and ended his campaign with a fifth-place finish, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, in the grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
The Governor’s Cup attracted five Pennsylvania-breds, all of which are eligible for a MATCH Series bonus from the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. The race drew a 12-horse field, though Ugottahaveheart is entered for the main track only.
One of the Pennsylvania-breds is Maryland-based Rapid Dan, who finished a troubled seventh in his only start this year in April on the Laurel Park turf. The 7-year-old gelding owned by Diane Manning and trained by Dale Capuano rallied to strongly to finish third, beaten a neck, in the Laurel Turf Dash last September and worked well at Laurel recently in advance of the Governor’s Cup.
The Governor’s Cup also is part of the Penn Gaming Challenge, a series of unrestricted stakes at the company’s tracks. The owner, trainer and jockey with the most points across all divisions get a free trip for two to Las Vegas.
The Penn Ladies Dash also drew a field of 12 including morning-line favorite Morticia, a G. Watts Humphrey-owned filly trained by George “Rusty” Arnold. Morticia, based in Kentucky, just missed winning the five-furlong Unbridled Sidney Stakes at Churchill Downs May 12.
Just Talkin, owned by Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, D. Simon and Bethlehem Stables, was entered in The Very One at Pimlico but scratched when the race came off the turf. Trained by Jason Servis, the 5-yaer-old mare easily won a turf sprint allowance at Gulfstream in her last start in March.
The Maryland Horse Breeders Association also is offering bonuses tied to MATCH standings, and there are two Maryland-breds in the Penn Ladies Dash: Richard Vermillion’s Rocky Policy, who would make her first start of the year, and owner/breeder Winners Circle Partners VIII’s Daylight Ahead, who finished sixth in The Very One and is on the MATCH points board.
Daylight Ahead is a dual bonus qualifier. She also is Delaware Certified–horses qualify under a residency requirement and are eligible for overnight purse bonuses at Delaware Park–and that program also is offering bonuses based on points accrued in the MATCH Series.
Daylight Ahead, trained by the team of Hugh and Demelza McMahon, has two wins and three seconds in nine starts on grass, and last year won the Maryland-restricted Jameela Stakes on the turf at Laurel. Her race at Pimlico in May was her first start of the year, so the 5-year-old mare could move up in a return to the turf.
Rocky Policy, trained by Capuano, has two seconds and three thirds in 10 starts on turf, but has come close to victory before. The 6-year-old mare last September finished third at Laurel in the six-furlong Sensible Lady Turf Distaff, which was won by Always Thinking in a sharp 1:07.68 on a course rated firm.