Nimitz Class shows his class and captures the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial (Maryland Jockey Club)
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
LAUREL, Md.— Thomas Coulter’s 4-year-old homebred Nimitz Class, riding a three-stakes win streak, will be favored to make it four in a row in his return to Maryland for Saturday’s $100,000 Native Dancer at Laurel Park.
The 51st running of the 1 1/8-mile Native Dancer for 3-year-olds and up and 35th renewal of the six-furlong Primonetta for fillies and mares 3 and older are among five $100,000 stakes on the second of consecutive Spring Stakes Spectacular Saturdays at Laurel.
Also on the 11-race program are the Henry S. Clark for 3-year-olds and up and Dahlia for fillies and mares 3 and older, both going one mile, and 5 ½-furlong King T. Leatherbury for 3-year-olds and up – the first three stakes scheduled for Laurel’s world-class turf course.
Post time is 12:25 p.m.
Nimitz Class is a younger full brother to Kaylasaurus, the multiple stakes-winning mare also bred on Coulter’s Arrowwood Farm in York Springs, Pa. He is the richest horse Coulter has ever owned, with $354,480 in purse earnings from 14 starts, eight of them wins.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse that’s won this many races, and they were quality races, too, allowance races and now stakes races. He’s a legitimate racehorse,” Coulter said. “He is a really cool horse and we’re enjoying it. It’s nice to have a Saturday afternoon horse, the kind you run when they run all the big horses. It’s just cool.”
Nimitz Class tied a career-high with his third straight win last time out in the one-mile Harrison E. Johnson Memorial, opening a three-length lead after six furlongs and cruising home by 6 ¼ lengths. The Munnings colt opened the season with a front-running 4 ½-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile John B. Campbell, also as the favorite.
Based at Penn National, Nimitz Class ended 2022 with a come-from-behind half-length victory in the Robert T. Manfuso, also going 1 1/16 miles, Dec. 30. All three wins during his streak have come at Laurel, where he is the overwhelming 1-2 program favorite for the Native Dancer.
“He’s done nothing wrong, and I’m just amazed. Every start he seems to get a little bit better,” Coulter said. “What I didn’t think he was capable of, he just goes out and proves me wrong every time. And I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.
“By the second or third start we knew he was better than a typical horse. He was winning, but the way he was winning you just thought there was more there, and we hadn’t gotten to the bottom of him,” he added. “I thought he could go on and keep improving.”
Nimitz Class became a stakes winner in the six-furlong Danzig last June at Penn National and raced outside of his home state for the first time in his subsequent start, when he finished second to Old Homestead in the seven-furlong Concern. Off the board in the Hard Spun on the all-weather at Presque Isle Downs and Lite the Fuse at Laurel, Nimitz Class stretched out to two turns for the first time on dirt in a mid-October optional claiming allowance at Penn, winning by 3 ¾ lengths in 1:40.54 for a mile and 70 yards.
“In the morning he works a bullet in the workouts so I always thought he was a sprinter, and the first stakes he won was the Danzig which is six furlong. [Trainer] Bruce Kravets came to me and said, ‘Why don’t we enter him at Penn going around two turns?’” Coulter said. “I didn’t agree with that. I really thought he was a sprinter, but his first time around two turns he won and he almost broke the track record. I said, ‘Well, let’s go look for some longer stakes races.’
“Laurel has this exceptional program of every four or five weeks there’s another stakes race that fits him. It’s just a place to go and they treat us really well,” he added. “We’re real happy going to Laurel for all of those reasons.”
Jevian Toledo, up for all three recent wins, gets the return call from Post 3 on Nimitz Class, whose name is derived from the 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in service with the U.S. Navy.
“The Nimitz class aircraft carriers are large, they’re powerful, and they’re fast,” Coulter said. “I think that fits my horse pretty well.”
Nimitz Class will face only four horses in the Native Dancer, among them stakes winners Forewarned (8-1) and Vance Scholars (5-1). Trin-Brook Stables, Inc.’s Forewarned, an 8-year-old Ohio-bred owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis, owns seven career stakes victories including the March 7 Washington Crossing at Parx, was third in the Westchester (G3) at Belmont Park and second in the Native Dancer in 2020.
Steve Newby’s Vance Scholars won an off-the-turf edition of the 1 3/16-mile Bald Eagle Derby last August at Laurel then placed in both the Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park and Laurel’s Japan Turf Cup, each switched from the grass to the main track. An optional claiming allowance winner Jan. 14 to open his 4-year-old season, Vance Scholars was seventh to Nimitz Class in the Campbell.
The Native Dancer honors the Hall of Famer that lost only once in 22 career starts, finishing second by a head in the 1953 Kentucky Derby before going on to win the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Travers. He was named Horse of the Year at 2 and 4 and was also champion 2-year-old, 3-year-old and older horse. Native Dancer would go on to a prolific stud career at Sagamore Farm in Maryland, where he was buried following his death in 1967. His progeny included champions Raise a Native, the sire of Mr. Prospector and Alydar, and Natalma, the dam of Northern Dancer.