- Published: Friday, 31 December 2021 12:31
When the majority of partners in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH Series) decided in late 2020 not to hold the series for a second straight year because of lingering COVID-19 uncertainty, the MTHA and MJC began discussions to consider a scaled-down event that would use only stakes in Maryland. The idea was to bridge the gap until 2022.
As a one-state series began to take shape, the Virginia HBPA and Colonial Downs reached out and expressed interest in hosting a MATCH Series day in August. Virginia’s participation was welcomed, and the end result was an all-dirt series that ran from mid-May to late December. With 20 of the 24 stakes—most of them $100,000—held in Maryland, horses based at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and Fair Hill Training Center figured prominently in the standings as the final results confirmed.
The MATCH Series was the focal point for Hillwood Stable’s Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Curlin based at Laurel with trainer Rodney Jenkins. Cordmaker started in all six legs in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt division, and his performances landed him the division championship and overall title with 49 points.
Though all but one division title had been decided before the Dec. 26 MATCH Series finale at Laurel, Cordmaker ended the series emphatically with a strong victory in the $100,000 Robert T. Manfuso Stakes in the final race of the series.
Ridden by Victor Carrasco, heavily favored Cordmaker was rated inside for most of the 1 1/16-mile Manfuso. He was guided outside entering the stretch and reeled in the leaders—Workin On a Dream and Shackqueenking, who finished second and third, respectively—to capture his third stakes win in the 2021 MATCH Series. Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Curlin gelding bred in Maryland by the late Robert Manfuso and Katy Voss, who operates a stable at Laurel, is the only horse to have had competed in all six races in his division.
Cordmaker also won the Victory Gallop Stakes at Colonial Downs and the Richard W. Small Stakes as part of the MATCH Series. His record at the conclusion of 2021 stood at 12 wins, four seconds and seven thirds in 34 starts for $794,640 in earnings.
“It’s all so special,” said Ellen Charles, who owns Hillwood Stable, a prominent Maryland racing and breeding operation. “Bob (Manfuso) was always my friend. I think Cordmaker is my best horse, an amazing horse who is a great character in the barn. He knows he’s special, and he has given us wonderful, wonderful wins. It’s just great to be a part of this.”
Mary Eppler Racing Stable and Ram Racing Stable’s Maryland-bred McElmore Avenue, who started four times in the MATCH Series, was second with 18 points in the division, followed by Trin-Brook Stables’ Forewarned, based at Parx Racing, in third with 6 points.
Filly and Mare Sprint Division
Though Hello Beautiful checked in fifth in the Dec. 26 Willa On the Move Stakes, the final leg of the Filly and Mare Sprint—Dirt division, she easily won the division championship with 34 points on the strength of back-to-back victories in the Alma North Stakes at Pimlico in July and Weathervane Stakes in September at Laurel.
Bred in Maryland by Hillwood Stables and owned by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables, the 4-year-old Golden Lad filly trained by Brittany Russell had 10 wins in 20 starts at the end of 2021 for earnings of $587,820. All 10 of her victories have come in Maryland, where she has won Maryland Million stakes at ages 2, 3 and 4.
Owner/breeder Larry Johnson’s Never Enough Time, a 5-year-old Maryland-bred mare, finished second in her division with 22 points after four starts in her division. Trainer Mike Trombetta had planned to race the mare in the Willa On the Move, but said she had been retired.
Never Enough Time, in MATCH Series competition, finished third in the Weathervane and narrowly missed winning the Seeking the Pearl Stakes in August at Colonial Downs in one of the strongest performances of her career. She retired with $394,393 in earnings.
C & B Stables Paisley Singing, a Maryland-bred 4-year-old filly by Golden Lad, captured third in the division with 12 points. Trained by Charles A. Frock, Paisley Singing finished third in the Willa On the Move, which sealed her bonus payment.
Filly and Mare Long Division
The division was the only one in which the winner had not been decided prior the final series day at Laurel, and the championship came down to only two points.
Though BB Horses’ Miss Leslie was an easy winner of the $100,000 Carousel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 26, James Wolf’s Artful Splatter captured the title with a second-place finish, 3 3/4 lengths behind the Claudio Gonzalez trainee. Artful Splatter, trained by Kieron Magee, finished the series with 25 points versus 23 for Miss Leslie.
Miss Leslie, a 3-year-old filly by Paynter, made her first division start in mid-September as her connections opted to race her in graded stakes against her own age group. She made up for lost time, with a fourth-place finish in the Twixt Stakes in September at Laurel and a victory in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes in November at Laurel that qualified her connections for bonus money.
Artful Splatter, a 5-year-old mare bred in Maryland by Amy Biggs Jackson, finish fourth in the Thirty Eight Go Go and before that finished second in the Twixt Stakes at Laurel and fourth in the Caesar’s Wish Stakes at Pimlico. The combination of a fourth start—which carries 5 bonus points—and a good second under Carol Cedeno put her over the top.
“I’m thrilled,” Magee said of winning a MATCH Series division. “I brought her here last week (from Pimlico) to work on this track. She broke well and took herself into the race. The filly that beat us obviously is very nice, but Artful Splatter has been a really good mare for us for a $16,000 claim.”
Trombetta and Johnson teamed again to take a top-three standings spot with Lookin Dynamic, who is co-owned by R. D. M. Racing.
3YO and Up Sprint Division
The 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt division has been held three times since the MATCH Series returned in 2018, and each year it has been won by Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, trained by Damon Dilodovico at Laurel.
Over the first three seasons of the rejuvenated MATCH Series, Laki raced 14 times in his division and missed only two races, one at Delaware Park in 2019 and the final stakes in 2021.
Laki was entered in the $100,000 six-furlong Dave’s Friend at Laurel but scratched the morning of the race. He collected 21 points over his five division starts, one more than Mucho, who opted for a $120,000 allowance race at Oaklawn Park the week before the Dave’s Friend and won.
“He spiked a temperature the morning of the race,” Dilodovico said of Laki. “He’s a warrior, that’s for sure. After a horse like Immortal Eyes, who we had, it’s not often you get a very good, quality animal. But to be able to know you have a shot to get to the wire first every time you go to post—that’s Laki.”
An 8-year-old Cuba gelding bred in Maryland by Tom Michaels and Lorna Baker, Laki is 11-for-38 thus far with multiple stakes victories and earnings of $833,162.
Kentucky-based Mucho, owned by WSS Racing and 4 G Racing and trained by John Ortiz, competed in three MATCH Series events, two in Maryland and one in Virginia for a total of 20 points. Maryland-bred Whereshetoldmetogo, owned by Madaket Stables, Ten Strike Racing, Michael Kisber and trainer Russell’s BTR Racing, finished third in the standings with 10 points.
MATCH Series division bonus money is awarded to the owner and trainer of the top horses based on points as follows: $20,000/$10,000 for first, $15,000/$7,500 for second, and $7,500/$3,000 for third. In addition, the owner and trainer of the overall points-earner regardless of division will receive $20,000 and $10,000, respectively.
A horse must start at least three times in one division to qualify for bonus money.In addition for 2021, bonuses were to distributed to the breeder of the top overall point-earning Maryland-bred horse and Maryland-sired horse in the series as follows: $3,000 for Maryland-bred (Cordmaker) and $3,000 for Maryland-sired (Hello Beautiful).