06/24/2017 6:46PM

Justalittlesmoke repeats in J. William Petro Memorial 'Cap

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JJ Zamaiko
Justalittlesmoke paid $3.40 in winning the J. William Petro Memorial.

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio – Where there's smoke, there's fire - and Justalittlesmoke is on fire. The mare rolled to a 7 3/4-length repeat victory in the $75,000 J. William Petro Memorial Handicap for Ohio-registered fillies and mares Saturday on the Thistledown undercard.

Justalittlesmoke remained unbeaten in three starts this year, by a combined 17 1/2 lengths, for Mast Thoroughbreds and trainer Robert Gorham. The Smoke Glacken mare has won eight of her last nine outings, with the lone loss by a nose against males in the 2016 Best of Ohio Sprint. Never off the board in 23 career starts, Justalittlesmoke pushed her career earnings to $722,870 with her 12th career stakes win.

Justalittlesmoke ($3.40) sat in second under T.D. Houghton as Proper Discretion ran an ambitious race on the front end, leading by eight through the half in 46.20 seconds. But under a hand ride, the favorite casually reeled the leader in around the far turn, assumed the lead before the quarter pole, and widened as she pleased, finishing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.44.

“I thought Terry had it perfectly well timed,” Gorham said. “He settled her nicely. She's been fresh and running on the front end all year. I was pretty confident he had it measured.”

School Board Prez closed to be second by a head over La Nina Bronca.

Justalittlesmoke, who is likely to be retired at the end of this season, may have punched her ticket into open-company stakes before she calls it a career. 

"We might keep her in Ohio, we might try an open race,” Gorham said. “She'll probably go to the shed next year, so we wouldn't mind getting some graded black type, but the Ohio money's good.”

Earlier in the day, Leona's Reward prevailed in a game photo finish in the $75,000 George Lewis Memorial Stakes for Ohio-accredited horses, holding off former stablemate Eightthehardway.

The filly, a two-time stakes winner last year, had been cross-entered in the Petro Memorial, but opted for the George Lewis against males. The field was led by Buckeye Bullet, who had won five straight, and the multiple stakes winner Eightthehardway, who had easily bested Leona's Reward last year.

Leona's Reward ($14.80), headstrong going into the first turn, eventually settled in hand for jockey Pablo Morales in fourth, with Eightthehardway third to the inside. Meanwhile Buckeye Bullet, sent away as the favorite, was powering comfortably through fractions of 24.40 and 50.46. Leona's Reward pounced around the far turn, motoring up to poke a head in front after six furlongs. The favorite refused to cede easily, but the filly stubbornly extended her advantage to a half-length in deep stretch. Eightthehardway soon rallied strongly on the outside to pose the danger, and he and Leona's Reward hit the wire together, with Buckeye Bullet fading to finish another 3 1/4 lengths back.

"She didn't go, she didn't try to run off," Morales said. "She was a little bit headstrong, but not bad. On the backside, I just had so much horse. I kept waiting and waiting, and I figured, it's a short stretch here, so I just kind of made my move. Looking at [Eightthehardway] was stuck on the inside, and I knew he had to make a move around me, and I was hoping we were gonna be there before he got there."

The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:54.82.

Leona's Reward, by Parents' Reward, is trained by Tim Hamm, who bred her under the banner of Blazing Meadows Farm and co-owns her with Michael Friedman. Blazing Meadows also bred and initially campaigned Eightthehardway, but Paul Groves and trainer Richard Vickers claimed him for $20,000 in March 2016.