09/30/2010 11:54AM

Sacco hopes claim of Cuba pays off in Maryland Million Classic

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Cuba will be seeking his second Maryland Million Classic victory on Saturday at Laurel Park.

It’s always a risk to claim a horse, especially one who’s 9 years old, but Monmouth Park-based trainer Greg Sacco was willing to put up $17,500 to take Cuba in the hopes of turning a big profit by bringing back the old-timer three weeks later in the Maryland Million Classic.

Cuba, who won the Maryland Million Classic two years ago and was second last year, will try to regain his old form when he faces seven other older horses in Saturday’s $150,000 Classic, the feature on an all-stakes program on the 25th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day at Laurel Park.

Overall, $1.05 million in prize money will be up for grabs in the 11 races that attracted 110 offspring of Maryland stallions.

Cuba, whose only win in nine starts this year came for a $20,000 tag at Monmouth in late July, looked like a good investment to Sacco, who took the 14-time winner on behalf of Maryland native Dan Eubanks of Rising Sun Stable on Sept. 11.

“You don’t claim 9-year-olds every day, but he’s a neat horse that I have followed since he was on the Kentucky Derby trail years ago,” Sacco said. “He still has a lot of life in him. It’s a pleasure to be around him, and he loves Laurel.”

The track’s morning-line favorite is In the Juice, a 4-year-old who has improved greatly since he finished fifth at 30-1 in last year’s Classic. In the Juice comes into the 1 1/8-mile race off back-to-back wins, including one going nine furlongs at Charles Town, while earning Beyer Speed Figures of 90 and 96.

“I think he has a good shot,” trainer Jerry Rob said. “Last year, he was a 3-year-old. This year, he belongs and I’m looking forward to it. He’s just matured and is peaking at the right time.”

Regal Solo, who won the 2007 Maryland Million Nursery, was claimed by Damon Dilodovico 13 months ago specificially for this race, and the gelding responded with a third-place finish. This year, Regal Solo has run just twice, winning a sprint at Delaware Park and finishing a distant fourth behind In the Juice going seven furlongs at Laurel.

“He’s doing well but wasn’t as sharp as the Delaware race, but we’re real happy with how he came out of his race,” said trainer Damon Dilodovico, who has four Maryland Million victories on his r é sum é , all off the claim. “All systems go for this weekend.”

Ben's Cat a pleasant surprise for Leatherbury

 

As the result of a broken pelvis he sustained as a 2-year-old, Ben's Cat didn't make his racing debut until this past May 8 at Pimlico. Even then, trainer King Leatherbury didn't consider Ben's Cat to be much of a prospect and ran the 4-year-old gelding for a claming tag in each of his first two starts.

“I had no idea he was going to be such a good horse and each win he’s had was a pleasant surprise,” said Leatherbury, who has won seven Maryland Million races during his Hall of Fame career. “Each time he ran he proved himself to have more talent than I thought. If I’d known he was going to be a stakes horse I certainly would not have run him for the $25,000. I was lucky I didn’t lose him.”

Unbeaten in five starts - only one on grass - Ben's Cat is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the 5 1/2-furlong, $100,000 Turf Sprint (race 5). His competition includeste 4-year-old  Phosphorescent, who missed by a half-length to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint contender Chamberlain Bridge last time ot in the Pennsyvlania Governor's Cup, and the millionaire 8-year-old Heros Reward.

Trained by Dale Capuano, Heroes Reward has 12 victories and 26 in-the-money finishes from 40 starts with earnings exceeding $1.1 million. He hasn’t won since August 2009, but came up just a neck shy in the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine on July 4.

"He isn’t as quite a good as he has been in the past,” said Capuano, who has eight Maryland Million scores. “But I think he’s going to run really well.”

Last hurrah for Celtic Innis

 

Multiple stakes winner Celtic Innis will make the final start of fhis long career in the $100,000 Sprint (race 6), where he faces defending champion Roaring Lion.

The 8-year-old Celtic Innis, trained by Tim Keefe, won the Sprint in 2008 and was second in 2006 and 2009. Overall, Celtic Innis has won 9 of 36 starts and $627,638, including 25 in-the-money finishes going six furlongs.

“He’s the best horse I’ve ever had," Keefe said. "When you think of my barn you think of Celtic Innis. He’s the figure on my racing logo and when he finishes he’s going to my farm so my wife can have him and turn him into a jumper.

“It’s going to be real sad to see him go but it takes him a bit longer now to get up to his races. We always point toward the Maryland Million.”

Roaring Lion will be favored after winning back-to-back stakes at Monmouth Park in his two most recent starts.

Elsewhere on the card:

◗ Two-time stakes winner Twelve Pack Shelly looks like a standout as she bids for her fourth consecutive victory against six other 2-year-old fillies in the $100,000 Lassie (race 1).

“She’s making it look easy,” said trainer John Salzman Jr., whose father, John Sr,. trained Eclipse Award winner Xtra Heat. “It’s hard to compare her to Xtra Heat. She’s got a long way to go but she’s on her way. She’s done everything I’ve asked.”

◗ Steady Warrior, son of 2002 Nursery winner Cherokee’s Boy, figures to be a short-priced favorite against 10 other 2-year-olds in the $100,000 Nursery (race 2) after winning his career debut with a 75 Beyer at Delaware Park.

◗ Defending champion All Giving, 2009 Maryland Million Oaks winner Love That Dance, and graded stakes winner Blind Date head a field of eight fillies and mares in the $100,000 Distaff (race 4).

◗ Da Flight, a Rodney Jenkins-trained 3-year-old who won his turf debut going 1 1/4 miles while earning an 83 Beyer, may be talented enough to defeat a group of nine rivals who are a combined 10 for 79 on grass in the $100,000 Turf (race 7). His opponents include Into the Wind, who was a close third in this race last year.

◗ The 3-year-old fillies Lil Kiara and Ben’s Boots, who were separated by a neck as the one-two finishers in last fall’s Lassie, meet for the first time since then in the $100,000 Oaks (race 8).

◗ The 6-year-old Talkin About Love, winless in seven starts since capturing this race last year, and the 4-year-ols Domestic Bliss, winner of the George Rosenberger Memorial at Delaware three weeks ago, head a group of 11 female turf runners in the $100,000 Ladies (race 9).

◗ In the $50,000 Starter Handicap (race 3) for horses who have started for $12,500 or less within the past year, probable favorite Northpoint Costas is cross-entered in the Classic and will likely run for the bigger purse. Night Q, a winner of three straight, becomes the logical horse to beat.

◗ Defending champion Seranadia, claimed for $5,000 by trainer Thomas Iannotti a month ago, makes her first start for her new connections against 13 other fillies and mares in the $50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap (race 11).