By Tom LaMarra
Oak Bluffs, an 8-year-old New Jersey-bred gelding, became the MATCH Series leader with a sharp victory in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, while Kentucky-based Morticia, a 4-year-old Kentucky-based filly, made an impression in her first series start with a win in the $100,000 Penn Ladies Dash.
The two stakes were part of the marquee Penn Mile card at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course June 2. The track was part of the MATCH Series during its initial run from 1997-2001.
Oak Bluffs earned 10 points in the Governor’s Cup, the second of five races in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division, and five for his third-place finish in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint May 26. That means Mary Eppler, who trains and owns Oak Bluffs, is now the leading MATCH Series owner and trainer by points with 15.
Ridden by Paco Lopez, Oak Bluffs rated off a quick early pace in the five-furlong turf race, moved up along the inside on the far turn, and then angled outside to make his run at the top of the stretch. He rallied past eventual third-place finisher Pool Winner and held off a rallying Dubini by three-quarters of a length.
The winner paid $6.80 as the favorite in a 10-horse field and covered the distance in :56.10 on a course rated firm.
Eppler, a strong supporter of the MATCH Series, said she expects Oak Bluffs to be entered in the third race in the division, the grade III, $200,000 Parx Dash July 7.
“This was fun,” Eppler said. “I think he’s better off going a little longer (than five furlongs), but I think we’ll look at the Parx Dash. He doesn’t like soft turf (like he got at Pimlico). He’s getting better and better. Was it his best race? Yes.”
Oak Bluffs was claimed by Eppler for $5,000 several years ago. He had been a stakes horse, and Eppler was able to get him back to top form.
Page McKenney, another 8-year-old gelding approaching the $2 million mark in earnings, is another former claimer trained by the Pimlico Race Course-based Eppler. He won the grade III, $100,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park May 26 and leads the MATCH Series 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt Division.
Morticia, owned by G. Watts Humphrey and trained by George “Rusty” Arnold II, was also entered in a $65.000 turf sprint stakes at Churchill Downs the evening of June 2. Her connections opted to ship her to Pennsylvania, and it paid off with the Penn Ladies Dash victory.
Morticia, who now has seven wins on the grass and never has been worse than third in 12 starts on the surface, took the early lead and fought off a stubborn Just Talkin to win by one length over a fast-closing Rocky Policy. Just Talkin held for third.
The winner, ridden by Jose Lezcano, paid $3.60 and covered the five furlongs on the turf in :56.35.
“I’m glad to see her get it done,” said Arnold, who noted Morticia had raced very well but just came up short in her previous three starts. “Her trip was good today. I was really confident (about her ability) at Churchill last time out but another filly just beat her.
“We’re thinking about taking her to Saratoga, but the MATCH Series is a really good think that we’d like to support. So we’ll see.”
Morticia earned 10 points in the Filly and Mare Sprint–Turf Division. The next races in the division is the $100,000 Turf Amazon Stakes at Parx Racing July 7.
Track officials reported strong pari-mutuel handle on the two MATCH races and other races on the program, which included five turf races; total wagering topped $3.6 million. A few days before the Penn Mile card the weather forecast called for potentially heavy rain, but storms stayed south of the Harrisburg area all day.