Racing's annual rejuvenation takes place with its crop of 2-year-olds, hinting at future stardom each autumn. The post-Breeders' Cup window often displays a peek into the future, and Laurel Park has both the $100,000 Smart Halo Stakes for the juvenile fillies and the $100,000 James F. Lewis Stakes for the colts and geldings on Saturday's docket. The ninth running of the Lewis, named for the late, first president of the Maryland Million (and father of trainer Lisa Lewis) has lured a diverse cast of regional runners. That's no surprise: the last 3 Lewis winners were a last-out local maiden breaker, a Maryland Million Nursery alum, and 1-2 finishers a year ago via Presque Isle Downs and Parx.
Stakes winners KENNY HAD A NOTION and SINGLINO own the field's signature wins to date. DALTON is stakes-placed. The rest are seeking black-type on their resume. With inexperienced 2-year-olds, class handicapping can be a misnomer as past fields can vary greatly in actual ability and youngsters are known for their rapid improvement.
SINGLINO and DALTON figure to vie for the lead based on their past races, though pressing the pace should be a busy locale in the pack: NO CENTS, KENNY HAD A NOTION, LUGAMO and FEARLESS FLY all project nearby.
Versatile KENNY HAD A NOTION won the Jamestown on turf at Laurel in a race restricted to Virginia-breds, then rolled to victory on dirt in the Maryland Million Nursery Oct. 24 in another restricted stakes. This move into open stakes company is new to the son of Great Notion, but Dale Capuano's 3-for-4 gelding did beat open maiden special weight competitors in his Delaware Park debut. His 5-length Maryland Million Nursey romp did get some form flattery when runner-up Alwaysinahurry returned to Laurel last Saturday to win in open allowance company. He's run 3 times since September 26, so this will be his fourth race in 7 weeks. If he's vulnerable in any handicapping angle, it's there; though his last 3 efforts have shown improvement.
The other Laurel locals for the Lewis include AIN'T DA BEER COLD, who closed 10 lengths in the Maryland Million Nursery after a troubled start, but never threatened; XTREME MAYHEM, a debut winner in the slop 13 days ago who didn't run fast or straight late; and LUGAMO, the strongest of this trio off maiden and allowance wins in his last 2. LUGAMO never looked in doubt in his 1-mile allowance score that should have him very fit for this.
The out-of-town challenges are many in the Lewis. Late-running TEXAS BASIN comes from New York and moves turf-to-dirt while by a sire (Successful Appeal) who gets a solid 16% winners on the Laurel dirt. FEARLESS FLY comes via Parx and his sire (Fast Anna) has been even better locally with 21% winners on Laurel's main track. The Monmouth brigade includes NO CENTS, SINGLINO and HEIR PORT all exiting the same Oct. 21 allowance in which none impressed this eye when no horse seized control in a 6-furlong race that took :26 the final quarter. No doubt here the strongest of the Monmouth exodus is DALTON, runner-up in a demanding slugfest in the Smoke Glacken Stakes. It was a hard race on DALTON against Pickin' Time, a Kelly Breen trainee who returned next to win the Grade 3 Nashua in New York. DALTON has had a spotty workout tab since that Sept. 27 throw-down, leaving some doubt as to how well he came out of the bumpy stretch run.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: LUGAMO has shown affinity for the track in back-to-back wins, has twice won longer than the distance required Saturday and his only loss came to the very impressive Jaxon Traveler when second in his debut at Pimlico.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: FEARLESS FLY pressed a rising star at Parx Oct. 28 before tiring, though the return second by rival Quick Tempo in the Nyquist Stakes on Breeders' Cup Saturday at Keeneland showed just how promising that past foe is. There are no Quick Tempo-types in the Lewis, which means FEARLESS FLY might annoy this field much farther than he did last time. And as mentioned, he's bred to appreciate the Laurel surface.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $50 win and place FEARLESS FLY.