6-Year-Old Gelding Looks to Give Trainer First Maryland Million Win
Richest of Eight Stakes, Four Starter Stakes, on ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’
LAUREL, MD – Kenny Cox took out his trainer’s license in 1987, the year after the Maryland Million was launched. Though based in the state throughout his career, which includes a pair of state meet titles and several stakes winners led by Flaming Emperor, he has yet to win a race at the event.
Cox is hoping to change that this year in the biggest race of all, Saturday’s $150,000 Classic at Laurel Park, with long shot Ain’t Da Beer Cold, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Matt Spencer, Cox’s wife Kelly Jo, and Charlie Bonuccelli.
The 1 1/8-mile Classic for 3-year-olds and up headlines a 12-race card featuring eight stakes and four starter stakes on ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races,’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state. Carded as Race 11, the Classic will have a post time of 5:10 p.m. EST.
First race post time Saturday is 11:30 a.m. EST.
With 2020 victor Monday Morning Qb absent, this marks the second straight year but only the seventh time in the past 24 years and 10th in event history that the Classic will not have either the previous year’s winner or a past champion in the lineup.
On paper, Ain’t Da Beer Cold was well-beaten in his only two starts this year, both sprints, the most recent coming Sept. 17 at Laurel. Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, he didn’t open his sophomore season until Aug. 14 at historic Pimlico Race Course in a similar conditioned allowance, contested at six furlongs.
Cox, a native of Gallupville, Md. near old Bowie Race Course, delved deeper into Ain’t Da Beer Cold’s form and noted his success the only two times the son of Freedom Child went a route of ground, winning an open optional claiming allowance last November and being beaten a nose in the Howard County a month later, both going 1 1/16 miles at Laurel.
“It’s not out of the question this horse could run real big in the Classic, actually,” Cox said. “He’s really training good. He’s a route horse and last time it was a very disappointing effort the way he got eased. But, he’s a horse that doesn’t want dirt in his face. He kind of got some dirt and backed out. We did some bloodwork and he had some issues going on and we addressed those.
“He worked the other day and [jockey] Angel [Cruz] came and worked him. I said if this horse works decent, then we’ll run him in the Classic,” he added. “He’s never worked as good as he did [that day] in his entire career that I’ve had him, even as a baby when he was in his best form. He worked in 47 [seconds], went out with a ton of horse and he’s usually not a good work horse by himself. Angel said he couldn’t have asked him to do any more. He was just sitting on him, and he had a ton of horse.”
Despite breaking on the far outside in his season debut, Ain’t Da Beer cold found traffic trouble and wound up seventh at Pimlico, and didn’t fare any better when stretched out for his most recent race. He will be reunited in the Classic with Cruz, who was aboard for both his career wins as well as the near miss in the Howard County.
“He’s a horse that, when he’s in front, he’s really tough to beat. He’s just game and he’ll give you everything he has. But he’s a horse that does not want to be in tight, he does not want dirt,” Cox said. “The first race I ran him off the layoff, I knew he needed the race and I wanted to get one in him before trying to get going for the Maryland Million, because this was our goal bringing him back. I thought he would run better second start but … he’s a horse that really wants to be very close with having things his way.”
Ain’t Da Beer Cold, bred by Spencer and Kelly Jo Cox, stumbled at the start of last year’s Maryland Million Nursery and lost all chance, finishing eighth. Cruz has been enlisted to ride in the Classic from Post 5.
“It would be big for everyone. This is what Maryland’s about. It’s the day. I’ve never really had live chances going in like I think I do this weekend so I’m pretty excited,” Cox said. “I grew up 10 minutes from Bowie. The owner [Bonuccelli], he grew up in Bowie, so it’s a big deal for us to be there and to have real live chance going into it.
“I had a horse named Flaming Emperor that I bought at the sale that probably would have won the Classic more than one time. Turf and dirt, he could do everything,” he added. “He never got to run in one Million. It never opened up to Maryland-breds so he never got the opportunity. It’s kind of been something that’s been in the back of my mind and ate at me a little bit, but it is what it is. We’re going to take our best chance. It’s something you always think about. At the right time, it’ll happen.”
Non Stop Stable’s Tappin Cat, exiting his eighth career victory and first in a stakes, will put his three-race win streak on the line in the Classic, where he is the 6-5 program favorite. The 5-year-old Tritap gelding has been a model of consistency, finishing third or better in 20 of 27 lifetime starts and sitting less than $800 shy of $400,000 in purse earnings.
Having sprinted last summer and into the spring, Tappin Cat has thrived since being stretched out. In five straight starts at a mile or longer, Tappin Cat ran second twice before launching his current stretch of wins in optional claiming allowances going 1 1/16 miles Aug. 13 at historic Pimlico Race Course and a mile and 70 yards 17 days later at Delaware Park.
Tappin Cat returned to Delaware Sept. 25 for the one mile, 70-yard Governor’s Day Handicap. In that race, he pressed the pace for a half-mile before taking over the top spot and prevailing by a head following a prolonged duel up front. Tappin Cat did not race in last year’s Classic after finishing third in 2019.
Jevian Toledo, up for that race, gets the return call from Post 8.
Non Stop stablemate Dashing Lou (30-1) is also entered. The 7-year-old gelding returns to the dirt after three unsuccessful tries on the turf, where he is 1-for-15 lifetime. The five-time winner has raced in Maryland Million before, finishing off the board in the 2019 Turf Starter Handicap.
Cash is King and LC Racing’s Dream Big Dreams (4-1) will be making his stakes debut and facing elders in the Classic. Trained by Brittany Russell, the 3-year-old son of Grade 3 winner Bandbox was a rallying half-length winner last out in a 1 1/16-mile open allowance over older horses Sept. 25 at Laurel.
Two of his three career wins, including a maiden special weight triumph in his third start March 14, have come in three tries at Laurel, where he also ran second in debut last December.
“He seems to like Laurel. He’s done some good running there,” Russell said. “He’s 3; I know he’s got a lot to prove. He’s going to have to run against some experienced horses that run big races every time, but it might just be one of these things where it sets up and he gets a piece of it. It being Maryland Million day, we’re going to take a swing at it.”
Dream Big Dreams has been worse than third just three times in nine lifetime races, two of those coming in his only times away from home – a maiden special weight in February at Aqueduct to launch his 2021 campaign, and a spin on the turf July 24 at Saratoga. He lost back-to-back races by a half-length at Pimlico in the spring under Russell’s husband, injured jockey Sheldon Russell.
“The horse has really done nothing wrong. To be fair, the couple spots on his form where you’re like, ‘Oh,’ those are my fault. I can take the blame for that,” Russell said. “We tried him on the turf in a race at Saratoga that didn’t work out. The day we shipped him to New York, he didn’t want any part of that.
“Even Sheldon has said in times he ran good races at Pimlico and got beat, he comes back and said he’s still the right type of horse. He’s going to win some big races,” she added. “It might not be as a 3-year-old, either. You might see the best of him in coming years, but I think he’s in good form right now and he likes Laurel so we’re going to go for it.”
Feargal Lynch gets the riding assignment from Post 6.
G. J. Stable’s homebred 6-year-old gelding Prendimi (12-1) will be making his third straight start in the Classic, having run second in 2019 and seventh last year. He has not won in seven tries since the most recent of his three career stakes wins, the Charles Hesse III Handicap last August at Monmouth Park where Luis Carvajal Jr. – trainer of retired Grade 1-winning sprinter Imperial Hint – is based.
Bred, owned and trained by Robert Vukelic, 6-year-old Crouchelli (10-1) returns for another try at the Classic after finishing eighth in 2019 and fifth in 2018. He comes into the race off back-to-back wins in an open 1 1/8-mile allowance June 26 at Pimlico and a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Sept. 3 at Timonium. He is the most experienced of any horse in the race with 41 prior starts.
Deborah Greene and trainer Hamilton Smith’s The Poser (6-1), fifth in the 2019 Maryland Million Nursery, goes after his first stakes win in the Classic. In his most recent start, the 4-year-old Bandbox gelding was beaten a head when second in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Sept. 3 at Timonium.
Torch of Truth (4-1), trained by Mike Trombetta for his wife, Marie, stretches out in his first run since determined nose triumph in a a 6 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance sprint Aug. 27 at Timonium. Trombetta is approaching his 2,000th career victory and, like Smith, ranks among the all-time leading trainers by wins in Maryland Million history but has yet to win the Classic.
Maryland-breds on the also-eligible list, based on money won since last year’s Classic, are, in order: Cordmaker, McElmore Avenue, Closer Look, Dr. Ferber and Alwaysmining.
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Laurel Park Press Release
Photo: Ain’t Da Beer Cold ( Laurel Park Photo)