By Tom LaMarra

Two top Maryland-bred sprinters that battled down to the wire in a division of the 2018 MATCH Series perhaps provided a preview of what’s to come this year in a March 16 stakes at Laurel Park.

The 2018 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division was won by Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, whose second-place finish in the grade III Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel gave him 32 points and the title. Linda Zang’s Lewisfield, who finished fifth in the De Francis Dash, finished second with 26 points.

Laki, trained by Damon Dilodovico, competed in all five stakes in his division, while Lewisfield started in four because of a trip to New York for a graded-stakes engagement. In addition, Lewisfield finished a nose in front of Laki in the Polynesian Stakes, the fourth leg of the division, but was disqualified to second after stewards determined there was interference late in the race.

Lewisfield returned to Laurel after a three-month winter break and was sharp in the $75,000 Not For Love Stakes, a six-furlong event for state-bred 4-year-olds and up, on March 16. He grabbed the early lead under Arnaldo Bocachica and gradually expanded his lead to 3 1/4 lengths at the finish. The time was a quick 1:08.68 on a track rated fast.

Laki, who had moved into second in the stretch, finished third behind fast-closing Rockinn On Bye in his second start of the year. He previously finished a solid third in the grade III General George Stakes at Laurel.

Jeff Runco, trainer of Lewisfield, was impressed with the 5-year-old gelding’s effort.

“He had a long campaign last year, so we took him back to the farm and put a little weight on him,” said Runco, who is based at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. “He was doing really well (in his works). We’ll see what makes sense, but we are looking at the MATCH Series again. It’s definitely part of our plan this year.”

Dilodovico has said the series provided a good schedule for Laki in 2018, and that he would look at this year’s MATCH stakes as well.

Rockinn On Bye finished third in the Polynesian last summer in his only MATCH Series start, but last fall was claimed for $50,000 by trainer Claudio Gonzalez on behalf of Super C Racing. Gonzalez, the leading trainer in Maryland by wins last year, also races at other Mid-Atlantic tracks where MATCH events will take place this year and could have an impact in a few divisions.

The series kicks off April 20 at Laurel with four stakes, one in each division. It moves to Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course June 1, Delaware Park July 13, Parx Racing Sept. 2 and concludes at Monmouth Park Sept. 28. Each of the 20 stakes in the series is worth $100,000.

At Aqueduct Racetrack March 16, Lady Sheila Stable and Iris Smith Stable’s Startwithsilver, who raced twice in last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt Division and was on the leaderboard before she was put on the shelf in the summer, won the Correction Stakes in her second start of 2019. The 6-year-old mare is trained by Linda Rice.

(Lewisfield photo by Jim McCue/MJC)