LAUREL, MD – Homebred filly Luna Belle, a stakes winner to end last year and begin this one, goes after a third straight victory for co-breeder/owner and trainer Hamilton Smith in Saturday’s $100,000 Wide Country.
The 29th renewal of the $100,000 Wide Country for 3-year-old fillies and the 27th running of the one-mile Miracle Wood for 3-year-olds and are among six stakes, two graded, worth $900,000 in purses on a 10-race program.
Serving as co-headliners are the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3) for fillies and mares 4 and up and the $250,000 General George (G3) for 4-year-olds and up, both sprinting seven furlongs. Older horses will also go about 1 1/16 miles in the $100,000 John B. Campbell and $100,000 Nellie Morse for females.
Bred in Maryland by Fred Greene Jr., Deborah Greene and Smith and owned by the latter with Smith, Luna Belle has already raced eight times with three wins, one second and two thirds. Her ability was never more on display than the last start, when she rated off the pace and powered through the stretch to a six-length triumph in the six-furlong Xtra Heat Jan. 29 at Laurel.
“That was a pretty impressive performance. I don’t know what kind of a number she got on that, but it had to be pretty good,” Smith said. “I had calls from all over commenting about it and congratulating me. She impressed a lot of people.”
The effort came following her 2-year-old finale in the Dec. 18 Maryland Juvenile Fillies, where she beat runner-up Jester Calls Nojoy, the heavy favorite trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, by 2 ¾ lengths. Both races came under Denis Araujo, who returns to ride from the rail in a field of eight.
“She’s kind of push-button. When you ask her, she’ll respond. That’s been the way she’s done her works and the way she’s been running,” Smith said. “When [Araujo] asks her to go, she does. She will relax behind horses, which is great. I like that in her. She acts like she’ll do anything we want her to.”
Luna Belle made her first two starts on the grass before Smith moved her to the dirt, where she graduated by six lengths last summer at Colonial Downs. In prior stakes attempts, she was a troubled fourth by a length in the Maryland Million Lassie and second to Buy the Best in the Smart Halo, both going six furlongs.
“The first couple starts she didn’t look that great, but once she broke her maiden, the way she did that I thought she was going to be a pretty nice filly, and she proved me right,” Smith said. “She’s been doing good ever since.”
The Wide Country will be Luna Belle’s first race beyond seven furlongs. She tuned up with a half-mile work in 47.40 seconds Feb. 12 at Laurel, second-fastest of 61 horses.
“She galloped out a little stronger than I wanted her to, so we’ll see how that affects her. Other than that she’s doing fine. She came out of the race good. Everything looks OK,” Smith said. “She’ll go long, I think. I hope she will anyway. We’ve got some races coming up going a route of ground, but right now we’ll take them as they come and hope for the best.”
Among the familiar faces Luna Belle will see are Buff My Boots and Beneath the Stars, respectively second and third in the Xtra Heat. Bird Mobberley’s Buff My Boots was a front-running winner of the Lassie two starts back and was fifth in the Smart Halo, while Leonard Mattingly’s Beneath the Stars preceded the Xtra Heat running second in the seven-furlong Gin Talking Dec. 26 at Laurel.
Money’s Worth and Qualy will be making just their third start and first in a stakes in the Wide Country. Shamrock Farm homebred Money’s Worth graduated in a six-furlong maiden claimer Dec. 17 at Laurel then was moved to trainer Graham Motion to start the year and has worked steadily at the Fair Hill Training Center for her sophomore debut.
Edward Seltzer’s homebred Qualy was beaten a neck in her unveiling last September sprinting 5 ½ furlongs over Laurel’s world-class turf course, rallying up the inside, then got some time before returning on the dirt in a one-mile maiden special weight New Year’s Eve, also at Laurel, where she led from start to finish and held on gamely by a nose.
“We tried her on the grass because she does have some turf pedigree and we wanted to give it a whirl before the winter came, and she ran quite well,” trainer Justin Nixon said. “We gave her a little time to recover from that, tried her long because her pedigree suggests she’ll run long, and we were pretty happy with that race. Obviously, she won and she came out of the race in good order. We looked at an a-other-than and that didn’t go and as soon as that didn’t go we thought we’ll take a shot in the Wide Country.”
By Quality Road out of the Rahy mare Vernada Bold, Qualy is a younger half-sister to Lucrezia, a stakes winner on dirt at 2 and 3 who ran second to Swiss Skydiver in the 2020 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Swiss Skydiver would go on to beat males in the Preakness (G1) and be named 3-year-old filly champion.
“She’s a real nice filly from one of Ed’s families. She came up and she’s just been very, very classy. She’s all class, this filly,” Nixon said. “We’re pretty excited about her. She’s a nice, fresh 3-year-old, lightly raced. She put in two very good works, last week and again the other day, so we’re excited about Saturday.”
Horacio Karamanos gets the return call from Post 6.
Rounding out the field are Robert James McGee’s Moody Woman, third in the Gin Talking and exiting a two-length optional claiming allowance triumph Jan. 27 at Laurel; James Doyle’s homebred Sandy’s Garden, runner-up in the 6 ½-furlong Franklin Square for New York-breds Jan. 22 at Aqueduct; and Barak Farm homebred She Is Wisky, a maiden claiming winner at Laurel last November who finished fifth to Moody Woman Jan. 27.
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Luna Belle (Maryland Jockey Club Photo)