10/04/2012 1:05PM

Laurel Park: Eighttofasttocatch targets repeat in Maryland Million Classic

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Barbara D. Livingston
Eighttofasttocatch, with trainer Tim Keefe up, will be seeking a repeat victory in the Maryland Million Classic.

Eighttofasttocatch was hammered down to 4-5 favoritism when he scored in last fall’s Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Park. He shouldn’t be anywhere near that price when he defends his title against five rivals in the $150,000 feature during the 27th Jim McKay Maryland Million, an 11-race card devoted to the offspring of Marland-based stallions.

Although he is winless since March and his three most recent races were lackluster efforts, Eighttofasttocatch may not be as vulnerable as he appears at first glance in the 1 1/8-mile Classic.

In his first start since May, on Sept. 8, Eighttofasttocatch held the lead in deep stretch only to fade to fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Japan Racing Association on the turf.

“I was disappointed the last time we ran him on the grass,” said jockey Sheldon Russell, who has ridden Eighttofasttocatch 16 times. “I dropped the whip or it would have been a better outcome. He keeps improving and loves the big days.”

Trainer Tim Keefe is expecting a strong performance from Eighttofasttocatch.

“I like the spot and I’m happy with the way he’s coming into the race,” Keefe said. “He’s as happy and sound as he’s ever been in his entire career. If he gets beat Saturday, it’s because he gets beat by a better horse.”

Keefe cross-entered Eighttofasttocatch in the $100,000 Turf as a backup plan, but said he is “99.9 percent certain” his 6-year-old will go in the Classic.

New Jersey-based Cactus Charlie and Delaware shipper Not Abroad, second and third in last year’s Classic, will challenge Eighttofasttocatch again.

The 5-year-old Cactus Charlie is 0 for 4 this season, but tuned up nicely for this spot by finishing third despite a wide trip in a third-level optional $75,000 claimer at Belmont Park while making his first start since July. During the summer at Monmouth, he was third in the $75,000 Skip Away and fifth in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup, earning Beyer Speed Figures in the upper 80s.

Not Abroad, second to Regal Solo in the 2010 Classic as a 3-year-old, comes into Saturday’s race in fine form with first- or second-place finishes in four of his five races this year. He primarily has been racing longer distances, highlighted by a close second in the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at 1 1/2 miles and a second in the Carl Hanford at 1 3/16 miles last time out.