Imprimis earns 10 points in the MATCH series standings with a victory in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico

Imprimis earns 10 points in the MATCH series standings with a victory in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico

Rick Samuels

Despite Rain, MATCH Series Gets Started With Four Races

Overall and divisional standings updated.

The widely acclaimed MATCH Series returned after 16 years with a splash at Pimlico Race Course—in more ways than one—and the enthusiasm shown by the participants was a positive sign for the series as it moves to Monmouth Park May 26.

J. Kirk and Judy Robison's Vertical Oak ran her record to two-for-two at Pimlico on May 18 with an impressive victory in the $100,000 Skipat Stakes, the first of 25 races in the 2018 MATCH Series.

Steady rain over the May 18-19 Preakness Stakes Weekend proved a challenge as numerous races were switched from the turf to a dirt track rated sloppy both days. Overall pari-mutuel handle for the 14-race Preakness program was down only 3.6% despite an average field size of 6.64, but the MATCH races handle provided encouraging news.

The Preakness Day MATCH Series races—the grade 3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes and $100,000 The Very One Stakes—had fields of nine and eight, respectively. Only two other races had comparable fields.

The Maryland Sprint (3-year-old and up sprint division), won by Woodford Racing's Switzerland, generated more than $4 million in wagering, down a bit from last year but roughly double the handle in 2016. The Very One (filly and mare turf sprint division), captured by Brian Chenvert and Eddie Kenneally's Girls Know Best, came off the grass with six scratches, but handled more than $3.5 million, much higher than last year when it was run on the turf and comparable to 2016 when a field of 12 raced on the turf.

On May 18, Breeze Easy's Imprimis won the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint (3-year-old and up turf sprint division) in a field scratched down to five. The Skipat Stakes (filly and mare sprint division) was also scratched down to five horses.

"Everybody braved the weather and was enthusiastic," said Maryland Jockey Club president and general manager Sal Sinatra. "We're glad to see the MATCH Series back, and now we can build on that. The weather definitely impacted the fields, particularly on Friday. We'll just regroup."

"We worked so hard to get everyone focused on MATCH and it exceeded our expectations, except for Mother Nature, who did not cooperate. Despite the challenge of the most abysmal weather conditions in Preakness weekend history, we had a great debut, and the response was tremendous. We thank Maryland Jockey Club and the Stronach Group for their support this past week. It was like old times. We look forward now as the Series moves throughout the region," said MATCH creator Alan Foreman.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who trains Switzerland and Vertical Oak, has a regular presence in New York and indicated he plans to continue participating in the MATCH Series. "We do have horses that fit the Series, and we expect to use it," he said.

Mike Hall, a partner in Breeze Easy, said the MATCH Series "seems like a wonderful project you've all put together," while Joe Orseno, who trains Imprimis, said the Florida-bred will remain with his Monmouth string this summer and could reappear in the Series, either at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course or Parx Racing.

The Series now moves to Monmouth Park, where the first of the five races in the 3-year-old and up long dirt division—the $100,000, grade 3 Salvator Mile—is one of four stakes Saturday as part of its Memorial Day Weekend celebration.

Points leaders
Rank    Horse    Points
1.    IMPRIMIS    10
2.    VERTICAL OAK    10
3.    SWITZERLAND    10
4.    GIRLS KNOW BEST    10
6.    LONG HAUL BAY    7
8.    ROCKET HEAT    7
3YO&Up, female dirt sprint
1.    VERTICAL OAK    10
3.    MS LOCUST POINT    5
4.    TOBY GIRL    3
3YO&Up, male turf sprint
1.    IMPRIMIS    10
2.    ROCKET HEAT    7
3.    OAK BLUFFS    5
5.    VICI                2
3YO&Up, female turf sprint
1.    GIRLS KNOW BEST    10
3.    ANNA'S BANDIT    5
4.    CHANTELINE    3
3YO&Up, dirt sprint division
1.    SWITZERLAND    10
2.    LONG HAUL BAY    7
3.    LEWISFIELD    5
4.    IRISH COLONEL    3
5.    HEARTWOOD    2
6.    LAKI    1
7.    FELLOWSHIP    1

3YO&Up, long dirt division
First race is Salvator Mile, May 26 at Monmouth Park