10/06/2011 11:21AM

Laurel Futurity finds new life as a turf sprint


After an absence of three years from Maryland’s racing calendar, the historic Laurel Futurity has been revived, although in a much different format than during its glory years.

Once a Grade 1 race when it was contested at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, the Laurel Futurity, which traces its roots all the way back to 1921, has been won by such famous racehorses as Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, and Spectacular Bid.

The stakes lost its graded status when it was switched to the turf, but remained an important race for 2-year-olds, thanks to Barbaro’s victory in 2005 as a precursor to his victory the following spring in the Kentucky Derby.

The revised Futurity returns Saturday as a six-furlong sprint on Laurel Park’s grass course and attracted a field of nine, including the Dane Kobiskie-trained entry of Lemon Juice and Oil Rig. Lemon Juice, the most prolific winner in the field with a 3-for-6 mark that includes a victory in the Charles Town Juvenile last time out, is cross-entered in Delaware Park’s $75,000 Dover Stakes, but Kobiskie said Thursday that he is 90 percent certain the horse will run in the Futurity.

Oil Rig makes his turf debut, adds blinkers, and goes beyond 5 1/2 furlongs after consistently flashing high early speed and winning 2 of 5 starts.

“I really like this horse in this race,” Kobiskie said. “I worked him on the grass at Colonial but haven’t had a chance to get him on since. I have been dying to run him on the turf and really think he is going to like it.”

Among the others, the most intriguing is Seeking Romance, who shortens up from 7 1/2 furlongs following a 3 3/4-length maiden score at Delaware less than three weeks ago.

Seeking Romance, part of an uncoupled entry for trainer Hamilton Smith, is a half-brother to the good female turf sprinter Tripped. Although she was not a stakes winner, Tripped went 5 for 11 on turf during her career, with four of those wins in sprints. William Backer is the owner-breeder of both Tripped and Seeking Romance.

The New York-bred colt Sportswriter could also be dangerous. He won his career debut going 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Saratoga, then was up close after the first six furlongs of the Grade 2 With Anticipation before backing up after a wide trip in the 1 1/16-mile race. Sportswriter’s trainer, Carlos Martin, shows an 8-for-42 record (19 percent) with turf runners switching from routes to sprints.

Play Eighteen has not been worse than second in four career starts, including a daylight win in his career debut at Colonial Downs. He makes his first start off a $15,000 claim by trainer Julio Cartengena, who is 2 for 5 with new acquisitions switching from dirt to turf.