10/20/2016 12:56PM

Admirals War Chest looks primed for repeat in Maryland Million Classic

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Admirals War Chest comes into the Maryland Million Classic, a race he won last year, off a sharp front-running victory.

The Maryland Million card on Saturday is the best-attended day of the year at Laurel Park and on a state level trails only the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan programs at Pimlico. A year ago, more than 19,000 fans turned out.

The 11-race card will offer $1 million in purses and includes seven stakes, two starter handicaps, and a pair of maiden races. First post is 12:15 p.m. Eastern. The races will be streamed live on DRF.com.

The Maryland Million races are for the progeny of stallions who stand in the state. If, after scratches, fewer than six Maryland-sired horses are in a race, Maryland-bred runners are allowed to draw in.

For the first time this year, stallion farms in the state will be giving the owners of the first-, second-, and third-place finishers in the seven Maryland Million stakes a free breeding season.

Four winners of 2015 Maryland Million stakes are back this year. Admirals War Chest will try for a repeat in the Classic, Phlash Phelps is in the Turf, and Monster Sleeping will attempt to score her third win in the Ladies. Corvus, who won the Nursery last season, is now 3 and will face older rivals in the Turf.

The oldest runner on the card is three-time Maryland Million winner Ben’s Cat, who at age 10 is entered in the Sprint.

The $150,000 Classic and the $125,000 Turf are two of the day’s better races.

:: LAUREL PARK: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Admirals War Chest came into last year’s Classic off a front-running first-level allowance win at Penn National and duplicated that performance in the 1 1/8-mile race. Sent to the lead by jockey Taylor Hole, he hung on for a neck victory.

A 5-year-old gelding trained by Corby Caiazzo, Admirals War Chest enters Saturday’s race in a similar fashion. He went wire to wire to win a second-level optional-claiming race at Delaware Park in early September.

The victory was the first in six starts for Admirals War Chest since his Classic score.

“We expected things to go a little different this year, but we’re headed in the right direction and focused on a fall campaign,” Caiazzo said. “It’s always good to go into a big race after having a nice win like that. It put him mentally in a better place.”

Admirals War Chest is stabled and trains on the track at the Berkley Farm of his owner and breeder, Stephen Sinatra.

Although last year’s Classic runner-up, Bullheaded Boy, and third-place finisher, I’m Mr. Blue, are entered Saturday, Admirals War Chest is likely to receive his sternest challenge from the 3-year-old Just Jack, who is trained by Hamilton Smith.

Just Jack stretched out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and switched from turf to dirt in his latest start in a second-level optional-claiming race. He won by 1 1/2 lengths over a muddy track.

“I ran him in the 1 1/16-mile race just to see if we could get him here,” Smith said.

Just Jack, who is 4 for 8 in his career, will break from the outside stall in the seven-horse field.

“I don’t like the post position,” Smith said. “I’d like to get him covered up a little bit, but I think he’ll run well. As a 3-year-old, I think his best races are yet to come next year.”

Phlash Phelps figures to be a heavy favorite in the Turf.

Although he is only 1 for 4 this season, Phlash Phelps was bothered in the stretch of the Grade 2 Commonwealth Turf Cup last time out and was still beaten only 1 1/2 lengths. He also had a rough trip against Maryland-breds two starts back when he bobbled at the start of the Find Stakes and then was steadied twice early.

Following the Find in June, trainer Rodney Jenkins gave Phlash Phelps the summer off. The Commonwealth Turf Cup was his first start in three months.

“He’s an easy horse to train, but he’s a little nervous,” Jenkins said. “After the Find, I wanted to make sure he was all right, and I gave him the summer off. I do that with a lot of our horses.”

Corvus won the Maryland Million Nursery in his career debut last year. He has made his last four starts against older rivals for trainer Katherine Voss, including his last two starts on turf.

He finished fourth in his turf debut and then scored a front-running victory last out in an open, first-level allowance. Jockey Jevian Toledo was aboard for both of those races.

“He ran great the first time, but he had a little bad luck,” Voss said. “Toledo came back and said, ‘Boy, that’s his best race.’ So, then he ran back, and he won really nicely, and we thought taking on Phlash Phelps with a 3-year-old is somewhat daunting, but it’s Maryland Million Day, and it’s fun.”