10/12/2011 2:17PM

Penn National: Cool weather, rest should boost Noble Maz in Ligature

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Fred Hart was left wondering whether he had made a horrible mistake when he impulsively raised his hand at the last second before bidding closed on a filly at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Eastern Fall yearling sale in Timonium, Md.

Only a few minutes after he paid $9,000 for a daughter of Storm Boot, a veterinarian approached Hart and told him that if he had asked for an expert opinion beforehand, the vet would have strongly advised against bidding on the filly because she was “toes out,” a confirmation flaw that makes many horses susceptible to injury.

Fortunately for Hart, he held onto the filly, and his modest investment has reaped huge dividends.

Now 5, Hart’s mare Noble Maz has banked $315,330 in her 21-race career, including a pair of stakes for Pennsylvania-breds. She will be looking to win her second consecutive stakes as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in Friday night’s $75,000 Ligature, a six-furlong sprint for statebred fillies and mares at Penn National.

Noble Maz, based at Parx Racing with trainer Bill McCarthy, is coming off a win against males in the off-the-turf, five-furlong Mr. Jenny Handicap last month. Although her best distance appears to be five furlongs and she is 0 for 5 going six furlongs, Noble Maz won her career debut in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint and finished second last November facing open company in the six-furlong Cornucopia at her home track.

“She can go six furlongs,” said Hart, who lives in Jericho, N.Y., and has had horses with McCarthy for more than 15 years. “We gave her five weeks off since her last race, and she has always liked the cooler weather.

“Last time we brought her to Penn National,” said Hart, referring to a fourth-place finish as the 5-2 favorite in the Russian Rhythm on turf, “we didn’t win, but that was her third race in five weeks. That was a mistake.”

Likewise, Hart initially feared he made a mistake when he purchased Noble Maz. He became interested at the auction because her sire, Storm Boot, is a son of Storm Cat, North America’s leading stallion in 1999-2000. Storm Boot won 4 of 14 starts sprinting for McCarthy in the early 1990s.

“I always wanted to give him a son or daughter of Storm Boot to train,” Hart said.

He explained he was also relieved to find out that Storm Cat was toes out also.

“It’s a common trait for many of his offspring,” Hart said. “We try to limit the chance for injury to her by keeping her in sprints. We have avoided running her over any hard tracks in winter. We take her to South Carolina, where she was broken, every winter.”

Noble Maz’s chief competition in the nine-horse Ligature (race 3) should come from Tap Softly, who cuts back to a dirt sprint for the first time since she was claimed out of a winning effort that produced a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure in May. Tap Softly is now with the same owner-trainer combination – Robert Cole and David Wells – as Rapid Redux, the gelding who is going for his 18th consecutive win at Charles Town on Friday night.

◗ Sloane Ranger, coming off a half-length victory as the favorite in the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap on Oct. 1, is the logical favorite in the co-featured $75,000 Nepal at six furlongs (race 5). His nine rivals include Ryan’s Gift, who earned a career-high 94 Beyer Speed Figure the last time he ran on dirt, and the Scott Lake-trained Closing Vision, a daylight winner over third-level optional $32,000 claimers last time out at Laurel Park.