Jaxon Traveler winning the Maryland Sprint (G3) at Pimlico. (Jim McCue/MJC)
Among Six $100,000 Stakes on Christmastide Day Monday, Dec. 26 at Laurel Park
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
LAUREL, Md. – West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner’s Grade 3 Jaxon Traveler, a Maryland-bred champion in each of his two years of racing, will take another step toward making it three in a row when he returns to his home state for the $100,000 Dave’s Friend Dec. 26 at Laurel Park.
The 19th running of the Dave’s Friend for 3-year-olds and up sprinting six furlongs and 11threnewal of the 6 ½-furlong Willa On the Move for fillies and mares 3 and up are among six $100,000 stakes on an 11-race Christmastide Day program that marks the return of live racing following a week-long holiday break.
First race post time is 11:25 a.m.
Bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. A. Leonard Pineau, Jaxon Traveler was the state’s champion 2-year-old in 2020 and 3-year-old in 2021. He has raced eight times this year with one win, three seconds and a third, the lone victory coming in the May 21 Maryland Sprint (G3) at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Based in New York with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Jaxon Traveler has won three of his four career stakes in Maryland including the 2020 Maryland Juvenile Futurity at Laurel, where he has two wins and a second in four tries.
“He loves it in Maryland, and fingers crossed we come down and put on a good performance,” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “It’s exciting. It’s great to get him back at Laurel. It’s a great card they put together. It should be a great day of racing.”
Jaxon Traveler ran a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure in his most recent outing, finishing fourth – beaten a head and two necks – in the six-furlong Fall Highweight (G3) Nov. 26 at Aqueduct while carrying 131 pounds.
“This guy’s been knocking heads with everybody. I thought his race in the Fall Highweight was one of the best he’s ever run. He was just phenomenal,” Bellhouse said. “He’s not a big horse in stature and when they came down the stretch and they had those three, four horses all neck and neck and he’s carrying that much weight, I’m thinking the weight might have hit him a little more than a couple of those bigger horses.
“He’s as courageous as they come,” he added. “I was there, and I thought at the sixteenth pole we might have a shot to win it, but you could see those last couple jumps he was fighting but he was getting tired with all that weight.”
Fifth in the July 30 Ben’s Cat sprinting 5 ½ furlongs over a good turf course in his last trip to Laurel, Jaxon Traveler hasn’t been over Laurel’s main track since running second behind Whereshetoldmetogo – a 13-time stakes winner that was retired last month – in the March 19 Not For Love.
“Hopefully he’ll have a nice 5-year-old campaign,” Bellhouse said. “He’s a cool horse. He shows up and, on his best day, he’s a graded-stakes horse. He didn’t do anything to dissuade us from thinking that in the Fall Highweight. He just goes out and does his thing. On a good day he’ll win and, if not, you know he’ll give you everything he’s got.”
Pocket 3s Racing’s Threes Over Deuces returns to defend his title in the Dave’s Friend. He is 0-for-11 in 2022 but has five seconds and a third and has placed in two stakes including the Maryland Sprint, less than two lengths behind Jaxon Traveler. He exits runner-up finishes in back-to-back optional claiming allowance at Laurel, beaten a length to 2021 Fire Plug winner Wendell Fong Nov. 26 and a nose by 2020 Maryland Million Sprint winner Karan’s Notion Dec. 10, both of whom return in the Dave’s Friend.
Baxter Racing Stable’s Savoy enters the Dave’s Friend riding a three-race win streak for trainer Mario Serey Jr., who claimed the 4-year-old Honor Code gelding for $25,000 out of a fifth-place finish Aug. 27 at Timonium. Each of his recent wins have come over an off track, rallying to get up by a half-length in the slop sprinting seven furlongs Dec. 3.
Beren, winner of the July 16 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash in his lone Laurel start; Divine Leader, beaten a nose last out in the seven-furlong Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Nov. 12; Oct. 1 Challedon winner Factor It In, third by a neck in the Fall Highweight; 2020 Maryland Million Nursery winner Kenny Had a Notion; Showtime Cat, third last out in the Maryland Million Turf Sprint Oct. 22; and Going to the Lead, third behind Karan’s Notion and Threes Over Deuces Dec. 10, complete the field.
Dave’s Friend, the first pure sprinter to earn over $1 million, started 76 times over nine seasons from 1978-86 and retired at age 11 with 35 wins and as Maryland’s all-time leading money earner. Seventeen of his wins came in stakes at nine different tracks, including the Marylander (G3) and Patriot (G3) in 1978, when he also finished second in the Monmouth Invitational (G1). Maryland’s Horse of the Year in 1980 and inducted into the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame in 2016, Dave’s Friend set records at four different tracks.