11/29/2012 4:59PM

Laurel Park: Whiskey Romeo has the speed to stay undefeated

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Whiskey Romeo seems well-spotted to win his third race without a loss in Saturday's Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park.

It cost Morris Bailey a modest $40,000 to buy a colt by the Storm Cat stallion Forestry at the Fasig-Tipton Eastern fall yearling sale in October 2011. After just two starts, Whiskey Romeo has already more than doubled Bailey’s investment.

A daylight wire-to-wire winner in each of his races, Whiskey Romeo will look to make it three in a row when he stretches out to seven furlongs for Saturday’s $125,000 Marylander for 2-year-olds at Laurel Park.

Based at Parx Racing with trainer Tony Dutrow, Whiskey Romeo scored by 2 1/4 lengths going 5 1/2 furlongs at his home track in his career debut. Three weeks ago, Whiskey Romeo shipped to Laurel and easily disposed of five oponents, winning the six-furlong James Lewis by 7 1/2 lengths to increase his bankroll to $87,000. His Beyer Speed Figures of 78 and 85 are by far the best in Saturday’s eight-horse lineup.

The extra furlong of the Marylander should not be a problem for Whiskey Romeo. His half-brother Shared Property won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at a mile last season.

Whiskey Romeo may have to fend off an early challenge from Delaware shipper On the Go. Claimed out of his career debut for $20,000 by trainer Tim Ritchey, On the Go won his second start for his new owner-trainer by 10 lengths and comes out of a second-place finish with a much-improved 72 Beyer in an overnight stakes at Delaware a month ago. He will be stretching out beyond six furlongs for the first time.

Amerigo Vespucci takes another crack at Whiskey Romeo after finishing a distant second in the James Lewis. His chances were compromised when he hopped at the start. The Tim Tullock-trained Amerigo Vespucci won his first two starts, including a seven-furlong race in late October, and prepped for Saturday’s race by working a bullet five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Nov.  24.

The field also includes Smash and Grab, who cuts back slightly in distance after a pair of one-mile races, including a 3 1/2-length win two starts ago. He adds blinkers, a move which has produced a 30 percent hit rate for trainer Mike Pino the past two seasons.

◗ Hello Lover, who began the season running for a $7,500 claiming tag, will try for his 10th victory of 2012 in the $100,000 Jennings Handicap, a one-mile race for Maryland-breds. A win by Hello Lover would tie him with Clean Jean as the winningest horse of 2012.

The 6-year-old Hello Lover was claimed out of his win for $7,500 on Jan. 3 by Parx-based trainer Butch Reid. He improved enough under Reid to finish third in the Grade 3, 1  1/2-mile Greenwood Cup in July and brings a three-race winning streak into the Jennings.

Although he is stepping up in class, Hello Lover’s last three Beyers of 96-94-91 are the best recent dirt figures in Saturday’s nine-horse field.

The most difficult horse to gauge is last year’s Jennings winner, Eighttofasttocatch. He posted a career-best 104 Beyer winning the 2011 Jennings but comes off a dull fifth-place finish as the 6-5 favorite in the Maryland Million Classic nearly two months ago. In eight previous tries returning from similar layoffs, Eighttofasttocatch has four wins.

Regal Solo has been primarily a sprinter the past two seasons, but he did win the 2010 Maryland Million Classic going 1 1/8 miles. He came out of a close fourth in last year’s Frank De Francis Memorial Dash to be a distant sixth in the Jennings.