Multiple stakes winners Bonus Points, John Jones, Twisted Tom and Unbridled Juan, all of whom have shown an affinity for the local surface, will meet up in a compact but competitive edition of the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Saturday at Laurel Park.
The 34th running of the 1 1/8-mile Harrison Johnson for 4-year-olds and up is the first of five stakes worth $450,000 in purses on an 11-race program highlighted by the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes for 3-year-olds. First race post time is 1:10 p.m.
|Uriah St. Lewis
Three Diamonds Farm's Bonus Points has enjoyed his finest racing moments at Laurel, with four wins and four seconds from nine career tries over the main track including the 2017 Maryland Million Classic and, most recently, the John B. Campbell Stakes Feb. 16, both races coming at 1 1/8 miles.
In the Campbell, Bonus Points settled ahead of just one horse under Feargal Lynch before coming with a sweeping move on the far outside and emerged from a three-way photo finish a neck ahead of Monongahela. It was another neck back in third to Unbridled Juan, one of three horses to return from the Campbell.
"Feargal gave him a smart ride and seems to have a good rapport with the horse. It was a good stretch battle and he just kept finding a little more," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He seems to like Laurel. We feel like the mile and an eighth is a good fit for him and the fact that he's a Maryland-bred and he's made a good living at Laurel. It's something you can't always explain but sometimes they just take to a certain surface and perform consistently well on it, and it seems like that's what he's been able to do."
Lynch returns to ride Bonus Points from Post 3 in the field of seven at 122 pounds, the topweight he shares with Unbridled Juan and Jan. 12 Native Dancer Stakes winner General Downs.
Stronach Stable's homebred Unbridled Juan was beaten just a half-length in the Campbell, taking a 1 ½-length lead into the stretch while racing on the inside before being passed late, finishing a neck out of second. It was the first loss in three tries at Laurel for the 7-year-old gelding, who won an August 2017 allowance and the 1 1/8-mile Richard Small Stakes in his 2018 finale.
Prior to the Campbell, Unbridled Juan opened his season by rallying to be fourth, beaten two lengths, in the one-mile Fred W. Hooper (G3) Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park.
"He's always right there. He's very consistent, and he likes it here. He performs good and he's training well. I feel good about the race," trainer Jose Corrales said. "The last time he was inside all the way and got stuck a little bit and made his move, but he's not the kind of horse that will accelerate and open up by five lengths. He waits for other horses; you have to try to surprise them and win it right at the wire. He likes to make one run and then he's done."
Unbridled Juan will break from Post 4 under regular rider Alex Cintron, aboard for the sixth straight race.
"I look forward this year to a big year with him," Corrales said. "It's just a matter of having the horse stay sound and keep going."
Cobra Farm, R R Partners and Head of Plains Partners' Twisted Tom has won the only two times he has raced at Laurel, though not in 23 months. He captured the Private Terms and Federico Tesio to cap a three-race win streak as a 3-year-old in 2017, going on to finish sixth in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
Returned to New York-bred company, Twisted Tom reeled off wins in the New York Derby, Albany and Empire Classic in succession to end 2017. He raced only three times last year, and debuted as a 5-year-old finishing third by 1 ½ lengths in the one-mile Haynesfield Stakes Feb. 17 at Aqueduct. Nik Juarez rides Saturday from Post 1.
Matt Schera's John Jones is the winningest horse in the Johnson with 10 career wins, all of them coming in 24 tries at Laurel. Trained by Lacey Gaudet, the 7-year-old Smarty Jones gelding won the Mister Diz and Jennings Stakes in 2016 and repeated in the Jennings in 2017, and exits a one-mile optional claiming allowance triumph Jan. 26 to snap a seven-race losing streak. Winter meet-leading rider Trevor McCarthy will be in the irons from Post 2.
West Point Thoroughbreds' General Downs had a two-race win streak snapped in the Campbell, where was never far from the lead while racing in mid-pack and found himself in tight quarters near the eighth pole, and wound up beaten 3 ½ lengths infourth. Like John Jones, the 6-year-old Mineshaft gelding is 1-for-3 at 1 1/8 miles, while his Native Dancer victory also came around two turns at about 1 1/16 miles. Julian Pimentel returns to ride from outside Post 7.
"He came out of his last work in very good form," trainer Kelly Rubley said. "I think there was a really strong early pace and he may have benefitted from sitting off if it a little more, but it's always easier to look back than it is to do it at the time. I think he has a great strategy for going the distance, so we're hopeful that the Johnson comes up a little bit more to our liking."
Completing the field are Hillwood Stable's Cordmaker, winner of the one-mile Jennings Stakes Dec. 29 who finished a troubled eighth in the seven-furlong General George (G3) Feb. 16 in his 4-year-old debut; and Forewarned, a stakes winner at Thistledown last summer now owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis.