Pimlico Special Winner Harpers First Ride Aiming To Close Out 2020 With Native Dancer Win

MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride, winner of the historic Pimlico Special (Grade 3) over Preakness (G1) weekend in October, will get one more chance to add to what has been a spectacular season in the $100,000 Native Dancer Saturday, Dec. 26 at Laurel Park.

The 53rd running of the 1 1/8 mile Native Dancer, first held at old Bowie Race Course in 1966, is among three stakes for 3-year-olds and up on the undercard of a Christmastide Day program featuring eight stakes worth $850,000 in purses led by the $150,000 Allaire du Pont (G3).

Sprinters three and older will go six furlongs in the $100,000 Dave’s Friend for males and $100,000 Willa On the Move for fillies and mares. Post time for the first of nine races is 12:25 p.m.

A gelded 4-year-old son of G1 winner Paynter, Harpers First Ride has won six of 10 starts with two seconds, one third and more than $435,000 in purse earnings in 2020. Three of those wins have come in stakes – the 1 3/16 mile Pimlico Special Oct. 2 at Pimlico Race Course and the Sept. 5 Deputed Testamony and Nov. 28 Richard W. Small, each going 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park.

Maryland’s three-time defending year-end training champion Claudio Gonzalez claimed Harpers First Ride for $30,000 out of a Sept. 14, 2019 win at Churchill Downs in his third career start, and he has amassed a lifetime record of 9-2-1 and a $513,055 bankroll in 16 races.

“Everybody likes to dream, but all the time he proves he can run with the good horses. He showed class since the day we claimed him,” Gonzalez said. “He came into the barn and every day he improved. He got better and better and he has never been a problem for us.”

Harpers First Ride has won three of his last four races, the exception being a runner-up finish to Monday Morning Qb in the 1 1/8 mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 24 at Laurel, beaten 3 ¼ lengths. He bounced back with a three-length triumph in the Richard Small that produced the second-highest speed figure of his career.

“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,” Gonzalez said. “For me, the distance is not a problem. He’s the kind of horse that can run all day.

“I cannot say anything bad about him. He does everything right. He’s more mature,” he added. “Even when he breezes, if you ask him a little, he goes, and if you relax with him, he relaxes. 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.”

Harpers First Ride will face a familiar foe in Hillwood Stable’s Cordmaker, a fellow multiple stakes winner that he beat in the Deputed Testamony, Richard Small and Pimlico Special, the latter a race where Cordmaker has run third two consecutive years, beaten three lengths combined. Winless in seven tries this year, the 5-year-old son of Hall of Famer Curlin is one of three horses in the field to have banked more than a half-million dollars, the third being Tri-Brook Stables Inc.’s G3-placed Forewarned.

Air Token, owned and trained by Jose Corrales, takes a three-race win streak into the Native Dancer, the most recent coming Dec. 13 in a 1 1/16 mile optional claiming allowance at Laurel against older horses. The 3-year-old Golden Lad gelding’s only previous try at 1 1/8 miles came on the grass, when he ran second in the Maryland Million Turf Starter Handicap Oct. 24 after taking a 5 ½ length lead into the stretch.

“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.”

Included in Air Token’s win streak is a victory in the seven-furlong Concern Stakes Nov. 28 at Laurel by a neck over Francatelli. He came off the pace to win that race as well as a restricted allowance against his elders one start prior, but last out won in front-running fashion. Air Token has four wins, two seconds and a third from nine starts since being claimed by Corrales for $10,000 out of an Aug. 1 win at Laurel.

“He doesn’t need to be in front. He’s a horse that if he can sit back he’ll have a kick at the end,” Corrales said. “I’m just going day by day with this horse. This horse is showing me something every time. When I claimed this horse for [$10,000], I’m thinking if he can win for [$16,000] I’ll be happy or I’ll drop him back for [$10,000]. But he’s getting better. Horses to me are like people, they need opportunity. You never know how far you can go and this horse has done that.”

Hall Pass, Saratoga Jack and V.I.P. Ticket complete the field.

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