01/24/2013 2:18PM

Laurel Park: Pair of 5-year-olds test stakes competition in Nellie Morse


Six of the 10 fillies and mares in the main body of the field for Saturday’s $75,000 Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel Park finished first or second last time out. Although that indicates their current form is sharp, the group is lacking in stakes success.

Collectively, those six runners are 2 for 27 in stakes competition, a percentage that is dragged down by the 1-for-16 stakes record of Withgreatpleasure, who is cross-entered in Saturday’s $75,000 Affectionately at Aqueduct and is expected to run in New York.

What those weak numbers suggest is that it might be wise to look for a sharp horse with little or no stakes experience in the 1 1/16-mile Nellie Morse.

The two whose chances of successfully moving up in class appear to be a pair of 5-year-olds, Carrietta and Touch the Birds.

Carrietta needed to drop to a $12,500 claiming tag to clear her maiden condition at Gulfstream Park in April 2011 and was running for as low as $7,500 as recently as September. But she has performed better lately for trainer Howard Wolfendale, winning two of her last three starts with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 79 in November and a new top of 81 on Dec. 22.

Although Carrietta is 0 for 2 returning from a break of 31 to 60 days following a route win, she finished second by a half-length in one of those races. She will be making her stakes debut Saturday.

Touch the Birds, claimed out of a winning career debut for $16,000, finished in a dead heat for first with Carrietta in a second-level optional $25,000 claimer Nov. 22. That good effort came following a break of nearly five months, so she should not have a problem returning off a freshening of two months.

In her only previous stakes attempt, Touch the Birds was third against Maryland-breds in the Shine Again last March. As a Maryland-bred, she is eligible for a $50,000 bonus in the Nellie Morse.

Parx Racing shipper Tanivan also steps up to stakes company for the first time while riding a four-race winning streak. Her two-turn Beyers in the low 70s suggest she will have to improve to beat the competition.

Among the others in a field that includes two also-eligibles, Moon Philly merits respect after finishing no worse than second in her last five starts. She comes out of a pair of runner-up finishes in overnight stakes in New York.