Trainer Gary Contessa, fresh off a win in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) on Friday, started the stakes program at Pimlico May 17 with a victory in the $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO). But under very different circumstances.
Friday was a wet and dreary day at Old Hilltop when Contessa sent out Sweet Vendetta to win the Black-Eyed Susan over a track labeled muddy. On Saturday, the sun was shining and the infield was full as Starforaday won a stretch duel over Suave Jazz on a fast track.
The crowd is waiting for the "big" horse in the "big" race, Big Brown’s appearance in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). They have a while to wait. The first post was 10:30 a.m. ET, the Maryland Sprint just the third race on the card; the Preakness, race 12, is to go postward at 6:15 p.m. ET.
Starforaday was making his second start for Contessa, a New York-based trainer. Under Edgar Prado, the 5-year-old Five Star Dayhorse sat off the pace set by Celtic Innis and Cognac Kisses (:23.16, :45.81), with Suave Jazz also on the move early. Down the stretch, 6-5 choice Cognac Kisses and Jeremy Rose had the lead but Suave Jazz and Ramon Dominguez were to the outside gaining ground. Further outside, Prado got Starforaday in gear and it was a race to the wire.
"I was hoping they would come back to me and they did," Prado said. "It worked out beautiful.”
Sent off as the third choice, Starforaday got up by a neck for his fourth win in 14 starts and paid $8.20, $3.60, and $2.40. Second favorite Suave Jazz returned $3.20 and $2.10 while Cognac Kisses, just another neck back, finished third and paid $2.10. The six furlong time was 1:09.56 on a fast track. Celtic Innis and The Vin Man trailed in a field reduced to five by the scratches of Forest Park and Unbridled Behavior.
Contessa said the key was the glue-on shoes his runner wears, the same kind worn by Big Brown. "He has terrible feet. The shoes have saved his career," Contessa said.
"When I saw the 23 opening quarter, I didn’t think he could close into that," he added. "That made this race all the more amazing.”
Out of the Known Fact mare Known Feminist, Starforaday was bred in Kentucky by Shelford Farm. He races for Winning Move Stable. In his first start for Contessa, he won an optional claiming race at Belmont Park May 1, his first start of the year.
The victory was worth $60,000, increasing the bay horse's earnings to $184,519.