While many will be content to wave goodbye to 2020, Harpers First Ride will seek to cap a fine year with victory in the $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park on Saturday.
The 53rd running of the Native Dancer over a mile-and-one-furlong is part of a spectacular December 26th card featuring eight stakes races worth $850,000 in purses.
Harpers First Ride, winner of the historic Pimlico Special Stakes (G3) on Preakness Weekend back in October, will have the chance to sign off the calendar year in style.
The gelded four-year-old son of Paynter has been remarkably consistent in his racing career thus far – posting six wins, two seconds and a third in only ten starts – amassing $435,000 already in 2020.
Three of his wins have come in stakes races, with September’s Deputed Testamony Stakes win and November’s Richard W. Small Stakes score – both at Laurel Park – flanking that Pimlico victory at the Preakness meeting.
Trainer Claudio Gonzalez feels his charge is versatile and has shown an ability to win when things don’t always go his way through a race.
“He had a perfect trip the last time. The time before he was on the outside the whole race and the last time it was much better,” he said. “For me, the distance is not a problem. He’s the kind of horse that can run all day.”
Harpers First Ride will once more be drawing swords with fellow multiple stakes winner Cordmaker, behind him in the Deputed Testamony, Richard Small and the Pimlico Special.
Cordmaker is 0-7 this year, the five-year-old son of Curlin is one of three contenders in the Laurel Park field to have won more than $500,000 in prize money in their careers – joining Forewarned and Harpers First Ride.
According to Gonzalez, there’s very little that Harpers First Ride does wrong in his racing and in his homework.
“I cannot say anything bad about him. He does everything right. He’s more mature. Even when he breezes, if you ask him a little, he goes, and if you relax with him, he relaxes,” Gonzalez added.
“You can see it in the races. When he runs if you push him he can take the lead or he can come from behind. The horse is just a nice horse.”
Air Token, owned and trained by Jose Corrales, has won his last three starts leading into the Native Dancer Stakes. The three-year-old was second in the Maryland Million Turf Starter Handicap back in October on his only previous try at the distance on turf. He had a chunky five-length lead turning for home in that race before getting overhauled.
His trainer expects him to see the journey out without issue.
“I think the horse will be fine. He’s been running the distance and he’s also run the short distances,” Corrales said. “I think the horse is going to perform OK. He’s got enough air for that. I think the first race that he ran on the grass he opened up too much and he just got caught.”