It’s Viper Looking to Strike in $75,000 Star de Naskra

July 27, 2023

It’s Viper winning an allowance at Laurel Park May 27. (Jim McCue/MJC)

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David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club

LAUREL, Md. – The Elkstone Group’s homebred It’s Viper, in for a $30,000 tag for his graduation last fall, faces eight rivals as looks to make the rise to stakes winner in Saturday’s $75,000 Star de Naskra at Laurel Park.

The 30th running of the Star de Naskra for 3-year-olds and sixth renewal of the $75,000 Miss Disco for 3-year-old fillies, both sprinting seven furlongs and restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses, are the first of five stakes worth $500,000 in purses anchored by the $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash featuring seven older sprinters including Grade 3 winners Wondrwherecraigis and Lightening Larry.

In between those stakes are the $100,000 Deputed Testamony for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles and the $100,000 Alma North for fillies and mares 3 and older sprinting 6 ½ furlongs. Post time for the first of 10 races is 12:25 p.m.

It’s Viper is a chestnut son of 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver from the barn of Maryland’s leading trainer, Brittany Russell. After winning two of his first seven starts including a maiden claiming triumph last November, he put together back-to-back victories 13 days apart in May at historic Pimlico Race Course, the latter a restricted 1 1/8-mile allowance over his elders.

“He was very impressive in his two Pimlico races. He stepped forward each time, certainly what you want to see from a 3-year-old,” Elkstone’s Stuart Grant said. “We started him as a maiden 30 claimer, and then he won his allowances. Each time his numbers were getting better, and he was progressing. Given his sire, you wouldn’t be surprised to see that, and we were real happy.”

Pimlico Allowance win May 14.

Pimlico Allowance win May 27.

The connections gave consideration to the July 8 Indiana Derby (G3) before deciding to keep It’s Viper closer to home for Monmouth Park’s June 25 Tale of the Cat, taken off the turf and run at 1 1/16 miles. He finished third, beaten 8 ¾ lengths by the Chad Brown-trained Power in Numbers.

“The last race at Monmouth was a disappointment. I don’t know why he didn’t show up, but he’s training well, Brittany’s happy and we’re going to give him a shot,” Grant said. “Originally, we had pointed him to the Indiana Derby and then we said rather than ship him so far, this would be an easy spot.

“It came off the turf and I don’t know whether he didn’t like the surface or the wet track or what it was, but he just didn’t fire that day,” he added. “We’re hoping it was an aberration and he will bounce back and give us a good race.”

It’s Viper cuts back to a sprint for the first time since his second career start and will have Sheldon Russell aboard from Post 4.

“There’s sort of no excuses this time,” Grant said. “He’s going to be racing in his backyard and we’re expecting big things from him. We’ve probably got another two or three races in him and then we’ve got to give him the winter off. We’re excited. We hope he bounces back.”

John Salzman Jr., Fred Wasserloos and Anthony Geruso’s multiple stakes winner Coffeewithchris is entered to make his 15th career start in the Star de Naskra and 10th straight against stakes company. Seventh May 20 in the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, he won the 2022 Heft and Feb. 18 Miracle Wood at Laurel and exits a second to rival and It’s Viper’s stablemate Prince of Jericho in the seven-furlong Concern July 1.

Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Easy Action is set to make his stakes debut facing Maryland-breds for the first time. Based in the Midwest with trainer Norm Casse, the son of champion sprinter Speightstown has raced exclusively at Oaklawn Park this year with a maiden special weight win from four starts. He was the beaten favorite in each of his last two, beaten a combined five lengths while respectively second and third, the latter behind subsequent Chick Lang (G3) winner Ryvit.

Steven Walfish’s Super Accelerate, trained by Robin Graham, takes a two-race win streak into the Star de Naskra. The Accelerate colt graduated at sixth asking, a 5 ¼-length maiden special weight romp June 16 at Laurel, returning with a 26-1 upset of a restricted allowance July 1, both sprinting seven furlongs under jockey Horacio Karamanos.

“The race before, we were all kind of impressed with his race, but the figures were bad, and nobody knew why. I thought he showed a lot more than what the numbers said. He had the worst numbers in the field going into that last race, and we all liked him,” Graham said.

“I’ve thought from the very beginning he’s one of the nicest horses I’ve ever had, before he even ran. Karamanos, the first time he worked him, said this is going to be a really nice horse. I mean, a really nice horse,” she added. “It’s just been some little things, mostly figuring out what he needed and what he wanted. He used to worry a bit and I think that was before how we all figured out how he wanted to do things. It’s been a learning process for everyone.”

Graham is excited to see the continued improvement from Super Accelerate, who will have Karamanos back aboard from Post 2.

“I’m glad we’re in there and we’re going to do what we can,” Graham said. “He’s a big, clunky colt. He looks like a giant quarter horse. He’s kind of chunky and solid, so it’s just taken him a bit to get himself together. When we bought him last year, we really liked him and all the time I’ve liked him more because he’s learned how to balance himself better and all those things. He’s got a ton of class. He likes to train in the morning. He goes and does his job and comes back. You can breeze him; he’ll work fast and then he’ll come back with his head down just walking along like a pony.”

Hamilton Smith-owned and trained Feeling Woozy ran behind Coffeewithchris in the 2022 Maryland Juvenile as well as this year’s Miracle Wood and Private Terms and was seventh to subsequent Grade 1 winner Arabian Lion in the May 20 Sir Barton at Pimlico. In his last start June 24 at Laurel, he set the pace and took a three-length lead into the stretch but was edged to second by Eldest Son in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance.

Freeze the Fire, a debut winner June 23 at Pimlico that was beaten as the favorite by Super Accelerate last time out; May 4 maiden claiming winner Great Heavens; Parkerness, trained by Laurel’s summer meet leader Jaime Ness; and Tiz No Clown, most recently fourth in the Concern, complete the field.

The Star de Naskra is named in honor of the 1979 champion sprinter bred and owned by Carlyle Lancaster. He had a record of 15-10-4 and purse earnings of more than $580,000 from 36 starts between 1977-79, winning eight stakes and three graded-stakes, the latter during his championship season.

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