Eighttofasttocatch had to work hard for it, but at the finish he was the repeat winner of the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes, the closing-day feature at Laurel Park.
Under guidance by the meeting's leading rider, Sheldon Russell, the son of Not For Love was quick to assume the lead in the 11/8-mile test. Nearing the far turn, Cherokee Artist pushed inside the leader and got to the front, setting up a duel that would not be decided until the final furlong, where Eighttofasttocatch put away his rival and won in 1 minute, 53.43 seconds over a surface rated good. Cherokee Artist finished a length back in second, and Indian Jones was an additional 21/2 lengths back in third.
Eighttofasttocatch, a 6-year-old gelding, now has five stakes victories at his home track in a 365-day period for trainer Tim Keefe. In his previous start, he finished a disappointing fourth in the General George Handicap (Grade 2) after a troubled trip.
"I was glad he bounced back," Russell said. "This is a bit of justice because I think with a good trip we win the General George."
The winner improved his record to 10 wins in 32 starts with earnings of $463,190.
"He's a very nice horse, obviously," Keefe said. "He tries every time. It is great to have a horse like him."
Keefe, who finished in fifth in the trainer standings during the meet with 16 victories, said his star would run next in the $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) on May 18.
"He hasn't missed a beat and works well in between races," Keefe added. "I just need to keep him fresh and happy."
Eighttofasttocatch paid $2.40 as the prohibitive 1-5 betting favorite.
Titles for Russell, Kobiskie
The 12-week Laurel winter meeting ended with Russell and Dane Kobiskie winning individual titles. The 48-day stand began at the Central Maryland track on Jan. 4.
Russell, the top jockey in the Maryland colony a year ago, topped the rider standings with 54 first-place finishes, 21 more than Malcolm Franklin. The 24-year-old had 16 multiple-win days during the meet, including nine in the last four weeks of the stand.
"I am very grateful to ride for a lot of the best trainers; that makes my job easier," said Russell, who won a career-best 195 races in 2011. "I am riding with much more confidence after winning so much the last 15 months. I am still learning and eventually would like to venture, but I am still young and want to continue improving. The goal is to win more than 200 races this year, and we are ahead of that pace. I would like to end the year as one of the top 20 riders in the country, based on wins, to get my name out there on the national stage."
Russell has won four consecutive riding titles in the state dating to last year's winter championship, which includes the Pimlico spring and Laurel fall stands.
Kobiskie won the training title at the winter meet for the second straight year with 34 victories from 81 starts (42 percent). The former rider conditioned seven runners who won multiple races during the meet, including Lady June Bug and Lipstick Traces, who visited the winners' circle three times.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times