By Tom LaMarra
More than 100 horses have been nominated for the first four stakes in the 2019 MATCH Series, which will kick off April 20 at Laurel Park in Maryland.
Under a new format this year, each of the five partner racetracks will hold one race from each of four divisions on the same day for a total of 20 races worth $2 million in purses. Owner and trainer bonuses based on points accumulated through the series are set at $375,000, with another $40,000 up for grabs from breeders’ associations for their states’ respective top male and female in the series by points.
The Laurel MATCH stakes, which are part of a seven-stakes program on the first weekend of turf racing this year, are the Primonetta (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt Division), Frank Whiteley Jr. (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division), King T. Leatherbury (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division), and the Dahlia Stakes (Filly and Mare Long–Turf Division).
Laurel Racing Secretary Chris Merz said he was pleased with the number of nominations as well as the quality of the horses under consideration for the stakes. He said the Leatherbury, at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, could draw enough entries to warrant two divisions.
Merz said with 20 entries, management would likely split the Leatherbury. Under revised rules in 2019, each racetrack has the option to split a MATCH Series stakes if the number of entries is sufficient. If so, points would be awarded under the customary system for each division: 10 for first, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth, 2 for fifth and 1 for sixth through last.
The Whiteley, at six furlongs on the dirt, has 2018 MATCH Series veterans among its nominees including Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki and Linda Zang’s Lewisfield, who finished one-two, respectively, in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division last year. Also nominated is Stonehedge LLC’s Always Sunshine, winner of the Hockessin Stakes–a MATCH event–at Delaware Park last year, and two from the locally-based Claudio Gonzalez barn: Mr. Brix, who is owned by the trainer and last time out won a starter allowance stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack, and multiple stakes-placed Rockinn On Bye.
Cash is King’s Ms Locust Point, who has four wins in six starts at Laurel, is among the nominees for the six-furlong Primonetta, as is Hillwood Stable’s Shimmering Aspen, who has five wins in 10 starts at Laurel. Lady Sheila Stable and Iris Smith Stable’s Startwithsilver, who started in two MATCH events last year before hitting the sidelines, won the Correction Stakes at Aqueduct in March and is nominated as well.
The Leatherbury, which honors the Hall of Fame Maryland-based trainer, could serve as the 2019 debut of Pewter Stable’s Dubini, the Parx Racing-based gelding who competed in four series stakes last year and finished second by points in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division. Colts Neck Stables’ Pool Winner, third in the same division last year, also would make his seasonal first start in the Leatherbury after a roughly seven-month layoff.
The Dahlia, which marks the return of the Filly and Mare Long–Turf Division, a regular part of the series when it was held from 1997-2001, will be run at one mile. Nominees include graded stakes-placed Peach of a Gal, who is owned by Glenangus Farm and won an allowance race on the grass at Laurel in 2018; Sookdeen Pasram’s Timeless Curls, a Laurel-based filly who has never finished worse than third in 10 starts, all on dirt; and Patricia Moseley’s La Moneda, a New York-based mare with six wins and three seconds in 10 starts on turf.
Entries for the April 20 stakes will be taken Wednesday, April 17. After Laurel, the series will move to Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course June 1, Delaware Park July 13, Parx Racing Sept. 2, and conclude at Monmouth Park Sept. 28.
As announced earlier, the MATCH Series partners in conjunction with Equibase will offer free custom full-card past performances for all five series days this year at equibase.com and through links at matchseries.com. Visit matchseries.com for information and regular updates on this year’s series.