Lucrative starter handicap series well-received by horsemen

Thirteen trainers will share in $40,000 as a result of their horses’ performances in the new Maryland Jockey Club Starter Series that ran from December through February at Laurel Park.

“They really enjoyed the series,” Maryland Jockey Club Racing Secretary Chris Merz said. “It was received really well, and when I called the horsemen to tell them they won bonus money, they said they’d like to see more of this. It was nice to see the little guys win.”

The series featured four divisions: 3-year-olds and up sprint, 3-year-olds and up long, fillies and mares sprint, and fillies and mares long. The distances were five furlongs, 5 ½ furlongs and six furlongs; and one mile, 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles.

 

Points were awarded in each race as follows: 4 points for a first-place finish, 3 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. The trainers of horses with the most points (top three per division) earned $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively; bonuses for the 3-year-olds and up long division will be divvied up evenly due to a four-way dead-heat.

The top horses and trainers for each division are as follows:

3-year-olds and up sprint

Chief of Staff (6 points), trained by Hugh McMahon

Tradfest (5 points), trained by Janet Polachek

Sir Orinoco (4 points), trained by Emanuel Geralis

3-year-olds and up long (four-way tie)

Joy Drive (5 points), trained by Dove Houghton

Whirlin Curlin (5 points), trained by Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon

Birdie’s Honor (5 points), trained by Marilyn McMullen

Dattt Melody (5 points), trained by Michael Gorham

Fillies and mares sprint

S W Briar Rose (11 points), trained by George Albright

Miss Jak (9 points), trained by Claudio Gonzalez

Polite Pearl (4 points), trained by Wayne Cole

Fillies and mares long

Sarah’s Treasure (11 points), trained by Robin Graham

So Innocent (6 points), trained by Charles “Snake” Frock

Bodega Bay (5 points), Anthony Farrior

Sarah’s Treasure, owned by Steve Walfish, raced in all three of her series legs and came away with two wins and a second. The same was the case with S W Briar Rose, who is owned by Springwater Farm and Jay Miller.

The base purses—not including Maryland bonus money—were $35,000 for the first leg of each division, $45,000 for the second and $55,000 for the third. Sarah’s Treasure, a Maryland-bred, earned $78,975 during the series, while S W Briar Rose, a Maryland-bred based at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, collected $74,295 in her three series starts.

The $55,000 races in the final round of the starter series Feb. 18 attracted fields of 9, 13, 9 and 11 for an average field size of 10.5. According to MJC statistics, the 3-year-olds and up sprint division averaged 9 horses per race with total pari-mutuel handle of $960,000; the 3-year-olds and up long division averaged 10 horses per race with total handle of $819,000; the fillies and mares short division had average field size of 7 with total wagering of $623,000; and the fillies and mares long division averaged 7.3 starters per race with total handle of $714,000.

Merz said the feedback was positive enough to lead the MJC to propose a similar starter series on the turf with legs in June, July and August at Laurel.

“I was surprised,” Merz said. “I didn’t expect it to get that much attention.”

Though not part of the three-month series, a Marathon Starter Handicap at 1 ¼ miles with a $65,000 purse is scheduled for March 16 at Laurel. Like the points series events, the race is for horses that have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since June 1, 2017.

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