by Scott Shapiro
After a 16-year break, the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship Series (MATCH) is back in 2018.
The series of races funded by horsemen’s groups from each of the participating states (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) ran for five years starting in 1997. MATCH returns starting at Pimlico Race Course with two races on Black-Eyed Susan Day, as well as a pair of stakes events on Preakness Stakes Day.
Here are my thoughts on each of the four races (click each race name for FREE Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances; for all Preakness handicapping reports, CLICK HERE):
The Fillies and Mares Sprint division commences with the $100,000 Skipat Stakes run at six furlongs over the main track.
#4 Ms Locust Point is the 7-5-morning line favorite based on her 6 for 9 career record for trainer John Servis. The daughter of Dialed In tried Grade 1 foes in the Madison at Keeneland in her first start off a brief freshening, but had a less than ideal start and finished a disappointing eighth. She should appreciate the class relief on Friday, but I still think she is a vulnerable chalk since she is unlikely to make an easy lead in the Skipat.
If the racetrack is sloppy I will lean heavily on #3 Startwithsilver who lacks early speed, but should be rolling late given the expected race shape. Her effort over the off going at Aqueduct in February provided a career best 101 BRIS speed rating and makes her my top pick if the forecast is correct.
If somehow the rain stays away I will still use Startwithsilver, but will also give a look to long shot #7 Everlasting Secret. The Shooting Star Racing Stables mare should get a more favorable outside trip after racing towards the inside or between rivals in each of her last few races.
The Turf Sprint division gets rolling with this five-furlong dash over the Pimlico lawn.
Given the likelihood of rain leading up to the race set for 4:14 local time on Friday it remains to be seen whether this will remain on the grass, but if it does #7 Hogy is the deserving 2-1 choice despite a ninth place effort in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. His 8 for 21 record going five-eighths on the lawn make him the clear one to beat, but his lack of speed and value make him hard to get too excited about.
#1 Rocket Heat should make a clear lead from his inside draw making him a viable alternative in the Jim McKay. He has won two straight, including a victory as the 2-1-favorite in an allowance event at Laurel on April 15th. The five-furlong distance is ideal for the son of Latent Heat.
If the race is taken off the green, I give upset chances to #2 Field of Courage and #6 Unbridled Daddy.
The Grade 3 $150,000 event conducted at six furlongs offers racing fans a competitive group to kick things off in the Sprint Division.
#5 Switzerland was highly regarded from start number one and burnt a ton of money at the windows before finally breaking through for his maiden victory in February at Aqueduct. The son of Speightstown moved to the Steve Asmussen barn after that initial victory and won impressively in both starts at Oaklawn Park versus lesser.
The waters get deeper for the four-year-old colt in the Maryland Sprint, but if he can move forward off of his 97 BRIS speed rating last month and avoid a battle on the front end he can make it four straight.
If Switzerland gets caught up in an early speed duel, #7 Laki is the likeliest to take advantage. The five-year-old gelding drew outside the speed, which should allow jockey Horacio Karamanos to stalk just off the pacesetters on the backstretch. The Maryland bred should be ready for a big effort in his third start of the form cycle for trainer Damon Dilodovico.
The final MATCH series event of the weekend gets things started in the Filly and Mare Turf Sprint Division.
I am hopeful that by 4:42 on Saturday the turf course starts to dry out, but that may be overly optimistic based on the weather forecast a couple of days out.
Like most full field turf sprint races there should be quite a bit of contention on the front end in the Very One Stakes, which could set things up for a runner from just off the pace.
#11 Smiling Causeway makes her first start of 2018 for trainer Arnaud Delacour. The Kentucky bred filly drew to the far outside in this group of 14, which should work out well given her tactical speed from the gate. If the Audrey Farm Stable gal is ready to fire fresh I expect her to be tough to get by in the lane.
For those playing exotic wagers, #1 Chanteline and #10 Carolina Shag should be in a position to pass tiring rivals late. #7 Girls Know Best comes off a career best 102 BRIS speed rating in her last at Keeneland, but will need to avoid regression if she wants to have enough energy late to beat this group.
If the race comes off the turf #4 Anna’s Bandit and #5 Angel At War become major players.
I am really looking forward to this series that concludes with Championship Weekend in mid-September. Good luck this weekend in Baltimore!