Circle P Chasing Second Stakes in Star de Naskra

June 26, 2024

Circle P was all business scoring in the 2023 Maryland Juvenile Stakes at Laurel Park. (Jim McCue/MJC)

Seven Furlong Sprint for Maryland-Bred/Sired 3-Year-Olds Saturday at Laurel

David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club

LAUREL, Md. – Nearly seven months after becoming a stakes winner the last time he sprinted over Laurel Park’s main track, DeSales 85’s Circle P will get a chance to duplicate that feat when he returns to face seven rivals in Saturday’s $75,000 Star de Naskra.

The 31st running of the seven-furlong Star de Naskra for Maryland-bred/sired 3-year-olds, named in honor of the 1979 champion sprinter bred in Maryland by owner Carlyle Lancaster, is the headliner on a nine-race program that begins at 12:25 p.m.

Circle P, a gelded bay son of Grade 3 winner Speightster bred by Marathon Farms, Inc., sprung an 8-1 upset to capture the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Dec. 2 at Laurel in his 2-year-old finale. He hasn’t raced shorter than a mile since, finishing third in the Feb. 24 Miracle Wood and fourth in an open allowance against elders June 9, both by two lengths.

In between, Circle P went 0-for-3 around two turns running fourth in Laurel’s Private Terms and seventh in the Sir Barton at Pimlico, each going 1 1/16 miles, and eighth in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio.

“He ran up against some nice horses, and we were probably asking him to do something that was difficult for him to do, but he gave everything he had. He tries every time he runs and gives it all,” trainer Flint Stites said. “Even in his last race, he tried really hard, but it was just a bit too far for him.”

Ricardo Chiappe, aboard in the Maryland Juvenile and again in his most recent race, rides Circle P from Post 3. Circle P has two wins, one second and one third in four prior sprint races.

“I think seven furlongs is probably the perfect distance for him,” Stites said. “He’s been doing really well. He’s been training forward and he’s ornery, which is a good sign for him. The whole world is a playground, and he loves to play.”

Rising Sun Racing Stables, Inc.’s Play Harder, a bay son of Grade 1 winner Outwork bred by Maria Haire, has won four of his five career starts including each of the last two for Claudio Gonzalez, Maryland’s overall leading trainer by wins six consecutive years from 2017-22. Though based at Monmouth Park, Play Harder has raced exclusively at Laurel with his lone loss coming by less than a length in a 5 ½-furlong allowance April 7 where he was fractious in the gate and hopped at the start.

Regular rider J.G. Torrealba has the assignment from Post 4.

Stepping up to stakes company for the first time in just their third start is a pair of undefeated horses in Haileysfirstnotion and Quint’s Brew. Daniel Crowley and Non Stop Stable’s homebred Haileysfirstnotion graduated by 3 ¼ lengths sprinting six furlongs April 27 at Laurel in his unveiling, and came back to beat winners by 3 ¾ lengths in an open 5 ½-furlong allowance May 18 in the mud at Delaware Park.

“He’s off to a nice start,” Crowley said. “It’s early yet in his career, but we’re really pleased.”

Jaime Rodriguez, who leads Laurel’s summer meet standings with 15 wins, rides from Post 5.

Paul Berube, Karen Linnell and Heather Hunter’s Quint’s Brew, a homebred son of Mosler, also went unraced at 2 before debuting with a three-length maiden special weight win March 2 sprinting six furlongs over a sloppy Laurel track, returning for a front-running 3 ¼-length optional claiming allowance victory going one mile April 5, his most recent start.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong yet,” trainer Mike Gorham said. “Two impressive races, his first two. We gave him a little time between these races and he’s training well into this race. It’s the next logical step, 3-year-old Maryland-breds. We’ll take the next step and find out how good he is.”

Raul Mena, aboard for each of Quint’s Brew’s starts, has the return call from Post 7.

Strongline Thoroughbreds’ Blue Kingdom was second or third in each of his first four starts before breaking through with a popular 7 ¾-length maiden special weight win going six furlongs June 2 at Laurel. Hillwood Stable homebred The Band Runs On has been similarly consistent, graduating by 5 ¾ lengths at first asking April 12 then running third by less than a length April 28 and second by a neck June 1, both times to Play Harder.

Also entered are Euro Stable’s Cap Com, fourth to Play Harder June 1 in his first start off a $40,000 claim by trainer Troy Singh, Gonzalez’s former assistant; and Lewis Family Racing Stable’s Celtic Contender, a 4 ¼-length optional claiming allowance winner sprinting 5 ½ furlongs June 8 out of back-to-back off-the-board stakes attempts around two turns in the Private Terms and Federico Tesio.

Star de Naskra had a record of 15-10-4 and purse earnings of more than $587,000 in 36 starts from 1977-79. Eight of his wins came in stakes including the Whitney (G2), Cornhusker (G2) and Carter (G2) during his championship season. He also placed in six other graded-stakes led by the 1977 Laurel Futurity (G1).

Recent Star de Naskra winners include Whereshetoldmetogo (2018), a 17-time winner from 37 starts including 13 stakes and nearly $970,000 in purse earnings; and still-active Jaxon Traveler (2021), who would go on to win a pair of Grade 3 stakes and push his bankroll over $913,000.

“For a different and unique perspective on horse racing, I read Jonathan Stettin’s Past the Wire.” Mike Smith, Hall of Fame, Triple Crown winning jockey

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