Posted: July 4, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

Yaupon and Mrs. Orb took their respective Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) stakes July 4 at Pimlico Race Course, and the usually contentious 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division is again shaping up as one to watch

The two MATCH Series stakes joined two other stakes on an 11-race holiday program that generated $10.06 million in pari-mutuel handle that included a mandatory Pick 6 payout wager with a $5.1 million pool and a $1.43 million carryover.

In the $100,000 Lite the Fuse Stakes, the second of six legs in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division this year, Yaupon, owned by Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt, got back on the winning track after eighth-place finishes in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November 2020 and the Group I Dubai Golden Shaheen in March. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred by Uncle Mo had been training this spring at Churchill Downs and previously had won his first four races, including the Grade III Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico in October 2020.

With Ricardo Santana Jr. riding for trainer Steve Asmussen, Yaupon stalked front-running Chateau for about a half-mile before taking over in upper stretch in the six-furlong event. He gradually pulled away to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Laki, who bid between those two on the far turn and ran on well for second. Chateau checked in third.

Yaupon, the heavy favorite, paid $2.80 to win and covered the distance in 1:09.43 on a track rated fast.

“He broke really sharp,” said Santana, who rode Yaupon for the first time. “He came in the race from the layoff and I wanted to give him a little break. He put me in a good position, so I let him take a second deep breath and at the three-eighths pole when my horse felt the other horse, he took off back.”

The other horse was Laki, who rated in third early and made his bid on the far turn. Laki, owned by Hillside Equestrian Meadows and trained by Damon Dilodovico, finished fifth in the Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes–the first race in the division–but rebounded nicely in the Lite the Fuse.

“He ran really well,” Dilovodico said. “I thought he may be able to get outside down the backstretch because it looked like Yaupon (wasn’t gaining on the leader). But there’s no shame in running second to him. We’re really blessed to have this horse.”

Yaupon and Special Reserve, winner of the Maryland Sprint, each have 10 points to top the division. Maryland-bred Laki now has 9 points thanks to having started in both stakes in the division thus far.

Mrs. Orb, a New York-bred owned by Ruggeri Stable, Richard Coburn, Script R Farm and trainer Mike Miceli, went over the $500,000 mark in earnings in the 1 1/16-mile Caesar’s Wish, the second of six legs in the Filly and Mare Long–Dirt division. Ridden by Horacio Karamanos, who also rode Laki, Mrs. Orb rated in fourth through quick fractions before taking over in mid-stretch and holding off a late rally by Trolley Ride. Sweet Sami D. finished an even third.

Mrs. Orb, a 6-year-old mare by Orb, has been a fixture in New York-bred stakes company but last November was second in a Grade III stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack. She has been first, second or third in 13 of 15 starts.

“She’s a tough gal–she’s not easy to train, but you don’t mind when they can run,” Miceli said. “She’s a little temperamental. You pretty much have to cater to her.”

Mrs. Orb, a slight favorite, paid $6.20 to win and covered the distance in 1:44.17 on a track rated fast. She collected 10 MATCH Series points to tie Spice Is Nice at the top of the division.

The 2021 MATCH Series continues July 31 at Pimlico with three stakes in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division, Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division and 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt division. Undefeated Chub Wagon, owned by George Chestnut and Daniel Lopez, leads the Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division and the overall series with 20 points.

(Yaupon photo by Jim McCue)