Posted: May 15, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

A Pennsylvania-bred filly remained undefeated in six starts and a gelding recently claimed for $40,000 became a graded-stakes winner in the two MATCH Series stakes held at Pimlico Race Course May 15.

The 2021 MATCH Series began May 14-15 at Pimlico in Maryland as part of Preakness Stakes weekend. This year’s series will be held only in Maryland and Virginia and will run through Dec. 26 at Laurel Park.

Wagering was strong on the two Series races held Saturday, May 15, as combined pari-mutuel handle was $13,661,720. Overall, the Preakness day handle of $112,504,509 for 14 races was a record and up 12.7% from the previous record of $99,852,654 for the same number of races in 2019 based on Maryland Jockey Club statistics. (In 2020, the Preakness was held in early October and their was no public attendance because of COVID-19 restrictions.)

The $100,000 Runhappy Skipat Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint—Dirt division) at six furlongs featured the undefeated Chub Wagon, who is based at Parx Racing and in her last start in late April won the state-restricted Unique Bella Stakes at seven furlongs by 7 1/2 lengths. That was her first start in a stakes, and it remained to be seen how she could handle open company.

Chub Wagon, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., had won her first five starts by more than 42 lengths and had the lead at every call in every race. She rated along the rail in third but not far behind front-running Dontletsweetfoolya in the Skipat before shifting outside of the leader in the stretch. Chub Wagon drew away to a two-length victory—her smallest margin to date but she had not rated before—over fast-closing Casual. Club Car was third while Maryland-based Dontletsweetfoolya checked in fourth.

“She relaxed more today,” said Ortiz, who rode Chub Wagon once at Aqueduct Racetrack when she won on the front-end. “I broke out of there and saw the other horse had some speed, so I just went to Plan B. She relaxed and she did great. She was all class.”

Trainer Guadalupe Preciado said given the potential speed in the Skipat he wanted to gauge if the 4-year-old filly by Hey Chub could be reserved a bit early.

“We wanted to try to (sit off the pace), and today was the perfect day, Preciado said. “We wanted to see if she could rate in case, one day, we’ve got a lot of speed and we’d know whether we can do it or not. And it worked out good today. We know she can come from behind. She’s a nice filly. She does whatever we ask of her. The first time I breezed her, you could see right away the talent.

“We’re going to see how she comes back and probably we’ll take one step a little higher. She responds every time we ask her.”

Chub Wagon was bred by and is owned by Daniel Lopez and George Chestnut. Lopez also said the connections will take it one race at a time in deciding the filly’s schedule.

Chub Wagon paid $4.40 as the favorite in a seven-horse field and covered the distance in 1:09.71 on a track rated fast. Her earnings now stand at $227,800.

The $150,000 Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt division) brought together a full field of local runners and invaders, and it was Special Reserve, owned by Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher, who proved victorious in the six-furlong Preakness day fixture.

Trained by Mike Maker, who won the Grade 3 Pimlico Special—part of the MATCH Series—the previous day, Special Reserve was claimed for $40,000 at Oaklawn Park in early February after having had competed in allowance company in Oklahoma. In his first start for his new connections the 5-year-old Midshipman gelding won an allowance/optional claiming race (no tag) at Oaklawn, and then finished second in the Grade III Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland in Kentucky in his next start.

In the Maryland Sprint, jockey Ortiz, who scored a MATCH Series double on the day, settled Special Reserve just behind front-running Strike Power until the far turn. Special Reserve took over and pulled away to win by 1 3/4 lengths in a sharp 1:08.91 on a fast track. Strike Power finished second, followed by Frosted Grace in third and Mucho in fourth. The winner paid $9.80 as the second choice behind Strike Power.

Maker said when the connections saw Special Reserve was entered at Oaklawn for $40,000, they jumped in. “We’ve got to have this horse, and we claimed him,” Maker said. “He had a bit of a bleeding issue that we addressed and got taken care of, and the rest is history. We originally liked him because he was still eligible for a two-other-than (allowance race). You never know in this game.”

Next up on the MATCH Series schedule is the $100,000 Shine Again Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint—Dirt division) at six furlongs June 13 at Pimlico. The race originally was scheduled to be run at Laurel Park at seven furlongs.

The MATCH Series, the only one of its kind in racing, will feature 24 stakes-20 of them in Maryland and four at Colonial Downs-valued at $2.75 million. Bonus money totals $282,000 for 2021. The series will conclude Dec. 26 at Laurel with the final races in each of this year’s four divisions.

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.

(Chub Wagon photo by Jerry Dzierwinski)