Updated on 09/08/2011 4:36PM

Laurel: Eighttofasttocatch, Nacho Friend benefit from Japan Racing Association's move to main track

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Eighttofasttocatch, who earned a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure for this win in the Harrison Johnson, is a prime threat now that the Japan Racing Association will be contested on dirt.

Both of the stakes on Saturday’s opening-day card at Laurel Park, the $75,000 Japan Racing Association and the $50,000 Jameela for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, were scheduled for the turf. But after Tropical Storm Lee dumped nearly eight inches of rain in central Maryland this week, the races have been shifted to the main track.

Given the switch of surfaces, the inside-outside combination of Eighttofasttocatch and Nacho Friend vault from fringe players to prime contenders in the 1 1/16-mile Japan Racing Association.

Eighttofasttocatch owns a 5-for-17 record on dirt, highlighted by a career-best 103 Beyer for his win in the Harrison Johnson Memorial at Laurel in March. Since a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2  Dixie Handicap on the Preakness undercard, Eighttofasttocatch has run just twice, collecting a second-place finish in an overnight stakes at Delaware Park on June 22 and a close fourth in the West Virginia Governor’s Handicap at Mountaineer on Aug. 6.

“We have been pretty conservative with him because we have the Maryland Million in mind,” said trainer Tim Keefe, referring to the big day for the offspring of Maryland sires on Oct. 1. Eighttofasttocatch is the defending champion in the Maryland Million Turf.

“He ran well at Delaware and Mountaineer and is doing well,” Keefe said. “I am happy we are back to racing at Laurel. I am sorry it has been raining, but he loves the slop.”

Eighttofasttocatch will break from the rail under a new rider, Malcolm Franklin. Franklin is subbing for Sheldon Russell, who took off his mounts to attend a wedding in the United Kingdom.

Nacho Friend, who got in off the also-eligible list in post 11 as the result of four early scratches, has been no worse than third in four starts this season with Beyer Speed Figures in the narrow range of 89 to 92. He steps up following a neck win over a sloppy track at Monmouth Park in a third-level optional $65,000 claimer.

Edgewater, who posted five Beyers between 92 and 95 from June 2010 to June 22 this year, and Sumacha’hot, who returns after nearly 13 months on the sidelines, also show good dirt form.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm will attempt to repeat in the six-furlong Jameela (race 8).

As a 5-year-old last season, Fascinatin’ Rhythm won the Jameela as a 17-1 longshot while racing on yielding turf. Early this year on dirt, she won the seven-furlong Conniver and outran her 64-1 odds to get third in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.