$100,000 SMART HALO STAKES AT LAUREL PARK
A pair of 2-year-old stakes highlight the racing action Saturday at Laurel Park, the $100,000 James F. Lewis for the boys in Race 6 and the $100,000 Smart Halo for the fillies in Race 7. Both are 6-furlong sprints in open company and have diverse fields across several circuits. But familiarity with a particular region puts me on the Smart Halo has the more confident look.
This field of 8 doesn’t include any stakes winners, and 5 runners will be trying stakes company for the first time. It certainly has the feel for a class riser.
LETSSTAYPOSITIVE is very fast from the rail. SUMMER CHURCH and ILCHESTER CHEETAH also have enough early zip to make the front. The pace should be honest to quick, but you expect that with 2-year-olds in a 6-furlong stakes. The filly with the best finishing kick should get the last call.
LETSSTAYPOSITIVE was offered for the $75,000 claiming price in her last start at Keeneland and changed hands after setting the pace in a short field of 5 and being caught in mid-stretch by 2-5 favorite Complexifier, a quality filly for Brian Lynch. There wasn’t much behind LETSTAYPOSITIVE in that race, and her victory at 4-1/2 furlongs in the Keeneland Spring Meet sort of is a rubber-stamp for former trainer Wesley Ward. She’s had only 1 work at Churchill Downs for Michelle Lovell since the claim.
COFACTOR visually impressed me the way he kept coming to win a Keeneland allowance October 16 in a field of 10, but the time was disappointing and a slower race than LETSTAYPOSITIVE from the next day’s card. But COFACTOR has trained well at Laurel with 2 works since and has been pointed here shrewdly. Her sire The Factor has a strong 19% win rate with his offspring on the Laurel dirt, including A Different Style, who won the 2017 James F. Lewis over this same trip at age 2. In fact, The Factor’s strike rate is 25% with his offspring at 6 furlongs on Laurel’s dirt from 24 starters, and his current crop of Laurel-raced 2YOs are 7: 2-3-1 with all finishing in the superfecta.
SUMMER FORTUNE debuted a winner at Belmont on October 20 in a 6-1/2 furlong sprint that slowed considerably late. It was a field of first-time starters (all but 1), and the close pursuers haven’t run back yet to get a good gauge on the group. There are no published workouts since the debut score 27 days in front of the Smart Halo. Sire Violence hasn’t had much success (4-37) with Laurel dirt starters, so there may be some reasons to take a stand against a Jeremiah Englehart trainee likely to be bet with interest by the simulcast audience.
A quartet of locals will be tasked with defending the home team: LUCKY TRINITY, a debut maiden claiming winner for the white-hot barn of Claudio Gonzalez; the Jeremiah O’Dwyer-trained pair of CRUISE AND DANZE and ILCHESTER CHEETAH, the latter a more accomplished 3-for-4 lifetime; and ALWAYS SOMETHING, winless in 4 Laurel tries surrounding a Colonial turf sprint win. Given the pace set-up, it’s the maiden claiming debut grad LUCKY TRINITY who may interest most of that bunch. She finished well in her first start and will have pace in front of her. The others could get mixed up in chase-and-fade mode.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: COFACTOR has the right running style and has trained over the track.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: STILL ALIVE likely will be overlooked with the Keeneland and Belmont invaders. Her Parx form has been up and down, and not particularly fast. But she’s got foundation, cuts back in distance and fired her best career effort the last time she was asked to bounce back from a subpar effort.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $90 win COFACTOR. $10 exacta COFACTOR over STILL ALIVE.