BALTIMORE, Md. – In 30 career starts, Mr Phil has won seven times but never run in a stakes race. Jaxon Traveler, meanwhile, has run half as many times and won three stakes, also having placed in graded-stakes on both dirt and turf.
Four weeks after Mr Phil got the best of Jaxon Traveler in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance at Aqueduct, the two speedsters will tangle again in Saturday’s $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3) at Pimlico Race Course.
The 34th running of the Maryland Sprint for 3-year-olds and up and 28th edition of the $100,000 Skipat for fillies and mares 3 and older, both at six furlongs, are among 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.75 million in purses on a spectacular 14-race program headlined by the 147th renewal of the Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Other graded-stakes on the card are the $250,000 Dinner Party (G2) for 3-year-olds and up and $150,000 Gallorette (G3) for females 3 and older, both going 1 1/16 miles on the turf; $200,000 Chick Lang (G3) for 3-year-olds sprinting six furlongs; and $100,000 UAE President Cup (G1) for Arabian horses.
First race post time is 10:30 a.m.
Sanford Goldfarb, Alan Kahn, Estate of Ira Davis and Samuel Abraham’s Mr Phil takes a two-race win streak into the Maryland Sprint, both coming after the 5-year-old Mr Speaker gelding was claimed for $32,000 out of a head loss in February by trainer Rob Atras.
“Sandy Golfarb, the majority owner, he reached out to me on the horse,” Atras said. “We had run against him a few times over the last year or so, so we kind of knew the horse. We were familiar with him. He had run pretty competitively in a lot tougher races so, for that price, we thought it would be a good claim.”
Mr Phil has won both his races for Atras in front-running fashion, each with Kendrick Carmouche aboard, who will be at Pimlico to ride from Post 6 in the field of seven, one spot inside Jaxon Traveler and 2021 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario. Mr Phil won by a length over American Monarch going 6 ½ furlongs March 27, and last out held off Jaxon Traveler by a half-length in an April 21 third-level optional claimer.
“We’re very happy with him. The first race he ran for us was kind of lacking in speed so Kendrick and I kind of had the same idea – try and put him on the front end because he’s run really well on the front end,” Atras said. “I think that race really boosted his confidence. He showed just as much if not more speed the next race, and put away a pretty nice horse.
“After that we were trying to figure out where to go, took a shot and nominated him [here]. When I saw some of the other names I thought, ‘We might fit in this race.’ We worked him [May 15] and he worked really good, so we’re taking a shot,” he added. “He is going into the race very good. His confidence is very high and he’s training very good in the mornings. We’re expecting a good race from him.”
While it will be the first trip to Pimlico for Mr Phil, West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner’s Maryland-bred Jaxon Traveler is quite familiar with his home state, particularly Pimlico, where he broke his maiden by 10 lengths in his September 2020 unveiling. He was beaten 1 ¼ lengths in last year’s Chick Lang (G3) on the Preakness undercard by stablemate Mighty Mischief, then returned three starts later to capture the Star de Naskra by three lengths.
“We know he loves Pimlico. He’s run great there every time. We’d love to see him go down there and put his stamp on it,” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “[The Chick Lang] was a really tough one to swallow. Irad [Ortiz Jr.] rode to instructions and took back a little. When Jaxon goes, like he did in the Bachelor in Arkansas last year, when you just let him roll he gets brave. Not that he needs to get brave; he’s a solid horse that runs solid numbers every time.
“He’s got 15 career starts and 14 of them are in the money. What more can you want?” he added. “Twelve starts on dirt, five wins, five seconds and a third. He’s hit the board twice on turf. He’s hit the board in his only synthetic start. He just needs to take a little step forward and he’s right up there to run with the top horses in America.”
Other than the result the connections, including Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, were not disappointed with Jaxon Traveler’s hard-fought loss to Mr Phil, a race where he led to the sixteenth pole before grudgingly giving way.
“I really thought he ran a winning and a willing race last time out. He was a little unlucky,” Bellhouse said. “The winner, he’s really gotten good with Rob Atras and just got away from us a hair. He ran a tremendous race.”
Disco Pharoah, winner of the seven-furlong Frank Whiteley April 16 at Laurel; Sir Alfred James, exiting a fourth in the May 7 Churchill Downs (G1), also seven-eighths; multiple stakes winner Threes Over Deuces; War Tocsin, runner-up in the Feb. 19 General George (G3) at Laurel; and Full Authority are also entered.
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Jaxon Traveler won the Star De Naskra Stakes at Pimlico Aug. 21, 2021, earning Black Type. (Maryland Jockey Club)