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PENN NATIONAL - With three victories in his past four starts, two of them in graded stakes company, Treadway Racing Stable's Maraud streaks into the sixth running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Penn Mile, for three-year-olds on the grass this Saturday as one of the leading young turf stars in the country.
Conditioned by Todd Pletcher - seven times the Eclipse Award winner as the country's leading trainer - Maraud is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of eight off a commanding 1 ½-length victory in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.
The Penn Mile, the richest race of the year at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, has become one of the most important turf races for three-year-olds in the country. It tops a superlative race card that offers seven stakes races worth $1.3 million in purse money.
Race 9 on Penn National's Saturday card with a Post Time of 7:45 PM
|1||Coltandmississippi||8-1||Joel Rosario||Todd Pletcher|
|2||Encumbered||6-1||Mario Gutierrez||Simon Callaghan|
|3||Maraud||5-2||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|4||Therapist||3-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Christophe Clement|
|5||Way Early||10-1||Kendrick Carmouche||George Weaver|
|6||Hawkish||5-1||Manuel Franco||James Toner|
|7||Smart Remark||12-1||Jose Lezcano||Victoria Oliver|
|8||He's Bankable||6-1||Tyler Gaffalione||Mark Casse|
In Maraud, Pletcher sends out a colt that descends from extremely versatile racing families. His sire, Blame, won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic on dirt, defeating the legendary mare Zenyatta, and has gone on as a stallion to produce outstanding turf runners. Maraud's dam, Unbridled Empire, is out of a mare that produced Grade 1 winners on both turf and dirt.
When Pletcher began training Maraud seriously last summer in Saratoga, he started the colt out on dirt but didn't like what he was seeing from a horse bred for success.
"We found in his dirt work he was doing OK but not finishing quite as strongly as we had hoped," Pletcher said. "We breezed him on the grass and saw a big difference."
Routed to grass racing, Maraud won his debut by two lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Saratoga. He followed that up with third-place finishes in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont Park and the listed Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After a month off, Maraud came back much better.
He whipped an allowance field despite racing wide on the turf at Gulfstream and then stepped up to win the Grade 3 Palm Beach at the track. After that, he went to Keeneland and finished a surprisingly listless fifth in the Grade 3 Transylvania over yielding ground. Yet, he rebounded to win the American Turf a month later and had no trouble adapting to a course also labeled yielding.
"We were concerned about it in the American Turf when it kept raining and raining the entire day," Pletcher said. "He didn't handle the soft ground at Keeneland, but he handled it OK at Churchill, which was a bog that day."
Pletcher has his long-time ace rider John Velazquez named to ride in the Penn Mile and said, "Hopefully, he fires his `A' race."
Maraud will face a strong test in the Penn Mile, including from his uncoupled stablemate Coltandmississippi, 8-1 on the morning line, who spun six wide into the lane and rushed home third, beaten just a half-length, in the six-furlong Bridgetown grass stakes on April 14 at Aqueduct.
Coltandmississippi had tried a couple of early Triple Crown prep races at Aqueduct this past winter without any luck before Pletcher moved him to the turf.
"We thought he ran a decent six furlongs on the turf, so we thought to try going farther," Pletcher said. "It's ambitious, but we thought we'd give him a try."
Standout West Coast trainer Simon Callaghan will send horses to compete at Penn National for the first time Saturday, headed by Reddam Racing's Encumbered, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Turf last year at the Penn Mile distance.
After taking two turf races in a row, Encumbered tried top dirt horses in the Grade 1 Front Runner and was beaten soundly by Bolt d'Oro. He came back in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and finished 13th but with good reason for his defeat.
"He came back a little bit sore out of the race," said Callaghan, who has raced eight different Grade 1 winners in a career that began in 2010. "We did a minor knee surgery after the race and gave him the time off, and he's come back really strong. He's fit and ready to run."
"He showed at Del Mar he's a very good turf horse. We think a mile is right for Encumbered. We think he's going to have a really big year. He's been showing us a lot in the morning. We might be a [6-1] shot, but we feel he's live."
Oak Bluff Stables' Therapist, trained by Christophe Clement, enters the Penn Mile with four victories from five lifetime starts and the only loss coming when defeated by Maraud in the Palm Beach.
Winner of the Laurel Futurity, the Awad at Belmont Park and the Cutler Bay at Gulfstream, Therapist seeks his first graded stake in the Penn Mile. He's 3-1 on the morning line.
"He's not the strongest horse mentally, but he's doing well," Clement said. "We had two choices - the Penn Mile or the other race [the Pennine Ridge] at Belmont going a mile and an eighth. We chose the Penn Mile. We know the horse well and he's been a pleasant surprise."
Clement is no stranger to Penn Mile success having sent out Frostmourne to take the 2017 edition of the race.
Trainer Mark Casse enters Live Oak Plantation's He's Bankable, who comes in off back-to-back turf scores, both front-running wins at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park.
By sire Arch, He's Bankable is a gelded half-brother to millionaire sprinter Awesome Slew out of the mare Slewfoundmoney. He began his career on dirt yet has won three of four starts since switching to grass racing.
"That mare's turning out to be a good one," Casse said of Slewfoundmoney. "I have a two-year-old out of her as well. [He's Bankable] didn't show a whole lot of anything early on, but he's come to life as of late. We breezed him on turf and thought he got over it very well. We kind of thought he was just a horse on dirt, and if he was going to excel it was going to be on dirt."
Casse won the fourth running of the Penn Mile in 2016 with the filly Catch a Glimpse, who had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf the prior year. He said he sees the race as a top target for any three-year-old grass horse.
"What's the old movie? "Field of Dreams"? Build it and they will come," Casse said. "You put up the money and they will come, especially when you put it in a [division] that lacks a lot of races out there for you. There's not a whole lot of three-year-old turf races out there. I think Penn National does a great job, and it's a good turf course as well. It's safe and it's a lot of money. They should be very proud of it."
He's Bankable is 6-1 on the morning line.
Hawkish, a rising allowance winner who finished fourth, beaten just three lengths by Maraud in the Palm Beach, enters for trainer James Toner. By 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, Hawkish is the grandson of Memories of Silver, who won more than $1.4 million as a top turf filly for Toner. A winner of two of three starts, Hawkish is 5-1 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Way Early, 10-1, who was fourth behind Therapist in the Awad last fall for trainer George Weaver; and Smart Remark, 12-1, who broke his maiden on turf last summer and finished third in March in the Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Victoria Oliver.
Despite heavy rains experienced by much of the eastern part of the country the past two weeks, the Penn National turf course is expected to be in excellent condition for the big card.
"As always, we have kept turf racing to a minimum, with only four races so far this year. So, the course is in great shape," said Eric M. Johnston, Director of Racing Operations at Penn National. "The race card came up strong from top to bottom, with good field sizes and quality horses. We are looking forward to a great day."
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