Trainer Gary Contessa is very optimistic about the future of Combat Diver and is looking at the March 21 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park as a launching pad for the son of Line of David's Triple Crown hopes.
At 1 1/8 miles, the $100,000 Private Terms drew a field of six 3-year-olds but carries no points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"We look at Saturday's race this way," Contessa said, "if he wins, we have eight weeks to get enough points to get into the Derby."
Contessa believes Combat Diver, owned by Wounded Warrior Stable, could be a classic horse and thinks the Private Terms is "a great opportunity to try your 3-year-old this time of year around two turns. I'd love to see the Derby give points for the Private Terms."
Contessa isn't the only horseman to use the Private Terms as a starting point to bigger and better things.
Kid Cruz, a former $50,000 claimer who won his stakes debut in last year's Private Terms, went on to win the Dwyer (gr. III) and two other stakes before finishing third in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and fourth in the Travers (gr. I). After winning the Private Terms in 2005, Malibu Moonshine went on to win three stakes races, including the Stymie. Maryland Juvenile winner Magic Weisner, victor in the 2002 Private Terms, would go on to finish second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Haskell Invitational (gr. I), and win the Ohio Derby (gr. II), while Oliver's Twist, second in the 1995 Private Terms, finished second in the Preakness.
Beaten a nose Feb. 16 at Laurel in the Miracle Wood, Combat Diver comes into the Private Terms off a ninth-place finish in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III).
"He ran lights out at Laurel last time and should have won," Contessa said of the colt, who broke his maiden at Belmont Park last October before finishing off the board in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). "Then we went to the Gotham and he didn't have the best of trips. I think coming back to Laurel will very much be the best to our advantage.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who saddled Mr Palmer to victory in the 2013 Private Terms, will send WinStar Farm's Net Gain from Belmont for Saturday's race. A son of Include , Net Gain broke his maiden Feb. 22 at Aqueduct Racetrack at a mile in his fifth career start.
Bodhisattva, trained by Jose Corrales, comes into the Private Terms off a fourth-place finish in the Miracle Wood, beaten only a half length, and is the most experienced horse in the field, with nine lifetime starts.
Missing from the Private Terms lineup is Howard Bender's Ghost Bay, who broke his maiden while winning the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity Dec. 27.
"We've missed so much time because of the weather that I don't think we'll make this one," trainer Lawrence Murray said of Ghost Bay. "It's no one's fault. It's just been a very unusual winter."
Murray said Ghost Bay, a son of Ghostzapper , could run next April 18 in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, or that same day in the Illinois Derby (gr. III) at Hawthorne Race Course.
"And it still remains to be seen if he's that kind of horse," Murray said. "But so far he acts like he's a nice horse."
In the $100,000 Caesar's Wish Stakes on the Saturday card, Jay Em Ess Stable's grade I winner By the Moon tops the field of seven 3-year-old fillies that will be going a one-turn mile.
A winner across a sloppy Belmont track last fall in the Frizette (gr. I), By the Moon will be making her first start since finishing fifth Jan. 24 in the Forward Gal (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
"She's doing very good," said trainer Michelle Nevin, who shipped the daughter of Indian Charlie to Laurel from her winter base at Palm Meadows Downs. "She's been doing well down here and now we just need to get her there." Laurel Park, Saturday, March 21, 2015, Race 4 Laurel Park, Saturday, March 21, 2015, Race 6
By the Moon broke her maiden at Saratoga Race Course, then finished second over a sloppy track in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I), before winning the mile Frizette, which was a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event. The filly ended her juvenile season with an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). By the Moon made her 3-year-old debut in the Forward Gal, finishing second behind Birdatthewire.
"I think she needed the last one," Nevin said.
Among the six other 3-year-old fillies entered are Gypsy Judy, winner last time out at Laurel of the Wide Country Stakes, and Hot City Girl, second in the Wide Country and second at Aqueduct in December in the East View Stakes.
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Bodhisattva (CA) Trevor McCarthy 116 Jose Corrales - 2 2Net Gain (IA) Julian Pimentel 116 William I. Mott - 3 3Now We Are Free (KY) Victor R. Carrasco 116 Michelle Nevin - 4 4Slick William (MD) Jevian Toledo 116 Hamilton A. Smith - 5 5Combat Diver (MD) Sheldon Russell 116 Gary C. Contessa - 6 6Bridget's Big Luvy (MD) Angel Cruz 116 Jeremiah C. Englehart -
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Been Here Before (KY) Jevian Toledo 116 Kiaran P. McLaughlin - 2 2Mytrack Marie (ON) Taylor M. Hole 116 Jose Corrales - 3 3Country Mamma (WV) Xavier Perez 116 Ollie L. Figgins, III - 4 4Lake Sebago (KY) Trevor McCarthy 116 John J. Robb - 5 5By the Moon (KY) Victor R. Carrasco 122 Michelle Nevin - 6 6Hot City Girl (NY) Sheldon Russell 118 Linda Rice - 7 7Gypsy Judy (KY) Horacio Karamanos 116 Robin L. Graham -
Laurel Park, Saturday, March 21, 2015, Race 4
Laurel Park, Saturday, March 21, 2015, Race 6