By Tom LaMarra
Al and Michelle Crawford Racing’s Shaft of Light, conditioned by leading Monmouth Park trainer Jorge Navarro, hopes to parlay his romp in a $50,000 stakes at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races into a victory in the $100,000, grade III Salvator Mile May 26 at Monmouth.
The Salvator Mile is the first of five races in the MATCH Series 3-Year-Olds and Up Long-Dirt Division. Monmouth will host seven MATCH Series races, including another two in the division. The race also attracted Sunny Ridge, a Jason Servis trainee owned and bred in New Jersey by Dennis Drazin, Chief Executive Officer of Darby Development, which operates Monmouth on behalf of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
Shaft of Light, a 7-year-old Smart Strike gelding, has a win and a second at Monmouth. In his last start April 21 at Charles Town, he won the seven-furlong Russell Road Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths on the lead throughout. That race was around two turns, and Shaft of Light has two wins and a third in four starts at the one-mile distance.
Navarro, who has 11 wins in 23 starts at the Monmouth meet, after the Charles Town race said Shaft of Light “goes nuts” when he doesn’t make the early lead. He drew inside of Derrick Smith’s Chip Leader, another confirmed front-runner who is one-for-one at Monmouth for trainer Todd Pletcher and last out finished second in the grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland April 14.
Sunny Ridge, a winner of $954,402 in 16 races, has two wins in three starts at Monmouth. In his last start April 20-his first start of the year-at Aqueduct Racetrack, he finished second in an allowance race at one mile. In his previous start last June, the 5-year-old Holy Bull gelding finished second in the grade II Brooklyn Stakes at Belmont Park.
Also entered in the Salvator Mile is Adam Staple and Jalin Stable’s Page McKenney, who has earned more than $1.8 million in 55 starts. The former claimer, a Pennsylvania-bred trained by Maryland-based Mary Eppler, passed on a few stakes at Pimlico Race Course Preakness weekend and would make his Monmouth Park debut.
The Salvator Mile is the 11th race on a 13-race Monmouth program that features four stakes. First post time is 12:50 p.m. EDT.
By Tom LaMarra
Page McKenney has made the rounds in the Mid-Atlantic region during his 56-race career, but until May 26 the 8-year-old Pennsylvania-bred gelding hadn’t raced at Monmouth Park.
His first start at the New Jersey track produced the 22nd victory of his career and pushed his earnings closer to the $2 million mark for owners Adam Staple and Jalin Stable and Maryland-based trainer Mary Eppler. It came in the $100,000, grade III Salvator Mile, the first of five races in the MATCH Series 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt Division.
Page McKenney had last raced March 31 at Gulfstream Park, where Eppler had a string this winter. He was nominated for a few stakes but the trainer opted to wait until the one-mile Salvator Mile, and it paid off with a $60,000 payday.
“I was always afraid to try him at Monmouth because it’s always speed-holding,” Eppler said. “Now, we’ll have to look at the other races in the MATCH Series for him. ‘Page’ is ‘Page.’ He has done this before, like his races at Parx last year–it was the exact same race today.”
Horacio Karamanos, regular rider of Page McKenney, got the gelding away in fourth in a seven-horse field and sat several lengths off leading Shaft of Light and Sunny Ridge, who tracked him in second through an honest pace. Sunny Ridge collared Shaft of Life turning for home as Page McKenney altered to the outside and slowly began to gain on the top two.
Page McKenney edged past late to win by a half-length over a stubborn Shaft of Light. Sunny Ridge, the New Jersey-bred gelding who is closing in on the $1 million mark in earnings, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Shaft of Light.
The final time for the mile on a fast track was 1:36.49. Page McKenney paid $17.60 to win as the fourth choice.
“I tried to be closer to the pace this time,” Karamanos said. “He was on the bit really easy. I didn’t want to be inside (heading into the stretch) so I swung out. It was tough because those top two horses weren’t really stopping. I’ve ridden a lot of nice horses, but this horse is my favorite. He had tendon problems three years ago and he came back. He’s all heart.”
Page McKenney was bred by Dr. James Bryant and Linda Davis.