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Eleven times Ain’t Da Beer Cold stepped into a Mid-Atlantic racetrack starting gate and lost.

Nine times at Laurel Park. Once each at Pimlico and Colonial Downs. He finished second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. But after winning two in a row in the summer of 2022, he lost – over and over. 

Not that he seemed to mind. 

Trained by Kenny Cox for a partnership of his wife Kelly, Matt Spencer and Bonuccelli Racing, the 5-year-old Freedom Child gelding kept right on training, trying and winning over people.

“Everyone loves this horse,” said Kelly Cox, the horse’s co-breeder with Spencer. “The state vet calls him Chilly because of cold beer. When he was a 2-year-old, once a week he would drop the rider. He’s a character, but he’s a sweetheart and we love him. It’s been a rough year for us, for a lot of people, so it’s amazing. He had a great year last year, but this year just wasn’t looking as good.”

Until Jim McKay Maryland Million Day at Laurel Oct. 14.

From post seven as a 37-1 longshot in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic, Ain’t Da Beer Cold bounced out of the gate and responded to a free rein and plenty of encouragement from Jevian Toledo to take the lead before the first turn. Toledo put his hands down and the chestnut put up early fractions of :23.59 and :48.40 while 21⁄2 lengths clear. Behind him, the others backed up into each other. Market Maven was second, ahead of Dolice Vita with favorite Double Crown waiting to launch a bid and last year’s winner Ournationonparade in tight along the rail up the backside.

Still in front on the turn, Ain’t Da Beer Cold had company as Market Maven drew alongside just past the quarter pole. He brought All Threes with him as Double Crown got involved from fourth. Ain’t Da Beer Cold and Market Maven separated from the others at the top of the stretch, when it looked like the pace chores might finally sap Ain’t Da Beer Cold. Market Maven put a head in front in the stretch, drifted out and then in when steered that way by Carlos Lopez. He bumped Ain’t Da Beer Cold in mid-stretch, straightened up and then leaned in again just before the finish while prevailing by a neck after 11⁄8 miles in 1:52.39. Double Crown was third, 11 ⁄2 lengths back.

Toledo claimed foul and, after a lengthy review, the Laurel stewards reversed the order – awarding the win to Ain’t Da Beer Cold and an overjoyed group of connections.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Kelly Cox said while wiping away tears and pointing toward Laurel’s paddock at the end of the stretch. “We were way up there. I didn’t even know there was an objection. We were just so happy with him, with the way he ran.”

Eighth in last year’s Classic, the Maryland-bred won for the first time since a Timonium allowance race Sept. 5, 2022, and improved to 6-for-32 lifetime with $383,559 in the bank through early November. He’ll have to sweat it all a bit longer as Market Maven’s owner Gregory Gordon and trainer Jamie Ness filed an appeal with the Maryland Racing Commission. 

No matter the outcome, Ain’t Da Beer Cold’s effort will be a thrill. Kenny Cox crafted the frontrunning strategy while handicapping the race, but wanted Toledo’s opinion before committing to the plan. The two met in the paddock beforehand.

“I wanted to leave it up to Jevian because he rides him and I believe that they do their job and know what they’re doing,” Cox said. “The first thing he said to me when he walked out was that he didn’t care what I said. He wanted to send the horse and put him on the lead.”

That was enough for Cox.

“That’s exactly what I was going to tell you,” the trainer told his jockey. “No problem. You have nothing to lose, so don’t worry about a thing. Do what you’ve got to do. There’s enough speed in there, but they can rate if they want to.”

Toledo and Ain’t Da Beer Cold did the rest, and put pressure on the others from the outset. As good as he was early, Ain’t Da Beer Cold may have been better late as he responded to Market Maven’s challenge and fought hard on the rail to come up a neck short.

“He could have sucked out of there, but he stayed in there and kept battling,” said Kenny Cox. “I was like, ‘We’ll be second, but man he ran well.’ You can never get upset. I’ve been doing this too long to get upset with a horse who tries the way he does.”

“For him to fight like he did today, I can’t believe it,” said co-owner Charlie Bonuccelli. “We would have been really proud of him and happy if he’d have finished second and didn’t get moved up. He’s just been a great horse to have.”

Named for the expression used – when things were going well – by longtime Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson, Ain’t Da Beer Cold was bred by Spencer and Cox from the With Distinction mare Distinct Affair. She began her career with Ness, and ran for Jorge Navarro, Marcial Navarro, Michael Tomlinson, Terri Pompay, Claudio Gonzalez and others before getting claimed by Cox for $6,250 in 2014. She won (for $5,000) in March 2015, got claimed away, claimed back (for the same price) in May, started twice more and became a broodmare. Ain’t Da Beer Cold was foaled in 2018 and has been followed by Not as Lucky as Us, Da Beers On Ice and Anita Beer. Distinct Affair foaled an Irish War Cry colt this year and died of colic the next day.

“This is our first homebred, so it’s kind of full circle,” said Kelly Cox. “We lost the mare, the siblings haven’t quite turned out, but that’s OK. We never lost faith in this horse.”

Brother Act in Turf Sprint

Move over – a little – Caravel. Witty, a half-brother to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint-G1 winner, continues to build a career of his own and added the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint to his record for owner/breeder/trainer Lizzie Merryman. 

The son of Great Notion made the win look dramatic by dropping to last of 12 early as Odinson and 2021 Turf Sprint winner Grateful Bred set the early fractions. Still in the back, 9 lengths behind the leaders, after three-eighths of a mile, the 4-5 favorite charged up the rail for Toledo and won by 11⁄4 lengths in 1:02.64 for 51⁄2 furlongs. Tidewater finished second, a neck ahead of Whenigettoheaven. 

Bred and raised in Pennsylvania by Merryman, Witty is the third foal out of the Congrats mare Zeezee Zoomzoom. The first you know. Caravel, by Mizzen Mast, won 15 of 26 starts (the first eight for Merryman as the sole owner), captured two Grade 1 stakes including the Breeders’ Cup and earned $1,983,327. She won six of those eight for Merryman, who sold a 75-percent interest to Bobby Flay midway through 2021. The filly won Saratoga’s Caress Stakes-G3 for Flay and Merryman, then moved to trainer Graham Motion. After three more starts, Caravel sold for $500,000 and moved to trainer Brad Cox for Qatar Racing and partners. She won eight more races and turned into one of the top turf sprinters in the country. 

Kid brother Witty won two of three, capped by the Pennsylvania Nursery, as a juvenile in 2021 and added two more wins (both stakes) in 2022. Moved to the turf in July, the gray gelding came into the Maryland Million off three seconds and a win (in the Ben’s Cat Stakes Sept. 16). He won three stakes on the dirt and made a start in the Smarty Jones Stakes-G3 around two turns as a 3-year-old, but turf sprinting seems to be his forte.

“If it wasn’t for Caravel I don’t think I would have even tried it,” Merryman said of the change. “He hurt his eye so bad last year and he doesn’t like running into the dirt anymore. The turf alleviates that situation.”

And he’s got some closing kick. He didn’t really start running until inside the final furlong, pricked his ears at Laurel’s standard finish line, then went back to running toward the second. He improved to 6-for-18 with seven seconds and $464,460 earned. He follows Caravel and the winning Bourbon Courage mare Tipsy Chatter on Zeezee Zoomzoom’s produce record. They’ve since been joined by Mission Man, a Holy Boss gelding with two wins in 11 starts, and Enzo, a Great Notion colt who was second at Laurel Oct. 27. A free broodmare sourced to Merryman by Kim Brette, Zeezee Zoomzoom produced a Street Boss filly in May 2022, did not have a foal in 2023, and is in foal to Triple Crown winner Justify.

“She was my fun mare to breed locally and breed to race because they certainly weren’t marketable because four dams took up half the [catalog] page,” said Merryman. “Now, it’s different. Caravel takes up a lot, Witty takes up a good chunk now too. Mission Man is a lovely horse, he’s way the most immature of them and I think they’re the type that get better and better with age.”

Merryman entered Zeezee Zoomzoom in the Keeneland November Sale, where Caravel was a $2.4 million RNA, but withdrew the 11-year-old mare. The Justify foal is due in a couple months.

Intrepid Daydream adds Distaff

The Distaff drew the deepest field on the card with six-time winner Luna Belle making her first start since May 2022, Fille d’Esprit eyeing a repeat, Mavilus seeking her 11th win, Malibu Beauty looking to go one better than her seconds in 2021 and 2022 and Response Time eyeing a repeat of her Timonium Distaff win from August. 

Three late scratches let in Maryland-bred (but not Maryland-sired) Intrepid Daydream, who was made the even-money favorite by bettors and earned a 3-length victory for jockey Toledo. The daughter of Jess’s Dream sat fourth outside Response Time and Malibu Beauty early, challenged for the lead after a half-mile in :46.67 and powered away in the stretch through 7 furlongs in 1:24.62. Response Time finished second with Luna Belle third.

Paul “Larry” Fowler’s homebred collected her third consecutive victory for trainer Gary Capuano. Fowler laughed at how it all came to be.

“I was home on the couch watching the races and Gary texted me, ‘Well, we’re going to be in,’ ” Fowler said. “I was like, ‘In what?’ Really. I had to rush around to get here. I didn’t even handicap the race because I just figured we weren’t running. But she ran like she always runs, God bless her. It’s amazing. To breed them, and everything you go through with all the horses. I’ve been with Gary 25, 30 years maybe. The ups and downs are unbelievable.”

Intrepid Daydream goes back to Hongkong Tour, a $6,000 purchase by Capuano at Keeneland September in 2006. The daughter of Broken Vow won four of five and produced Intrepid Daydream’s dam Intrepid Tour among others. 

Precious Avary lands Ladies

Last summer, as 2-year-old filly Precious Avary approached her debut, trainer Tim Shaw’s exercise riders would return with the same report.

“She’s different.”

Different than the others in the barn anyway, maybe even different than all sorts of horses. Second in her first race, on the dirt at Monmouth Park last September, she won at the Meadowlands a month later, added three more wins in 2023 and headed into the $125,000 Ladies on the turf as a key player in a field of eight. The 3-1 second choice and jockey Silvestre Gonzalez led throughout and hung on late to score by three-quarters of a length over Naval Empire with Golden Heart third. Bred in New Jersey by owner Smith Farm and Stable, Precious Avary stayed undefeated in three turf starts and pushed her career bankroll to $272,948.

Shaw went back to the beginning while trying to describe the dark bay.

“She just did things so easily,” he said. “Her first half-mile, she was ready to re-break again. When I work her a half and she comes back to the barn, you wouldn’t know we did anything. You would think we jogged a mile. She’s not blowing. You always hear, ‘She wasn’t even blowing’ but she truly doesn’t blow after doing something like that. That’s what started me thinking about her – you know, ‘What is this? What’s going on here?’ ”

Plenty. She goes back to Bo Smith’s $11,000 purchase of broodmare Run Tan Tan at Keeneland November in 1989. The Run Dusty Run mare produced six winners for Smith, including the Lord Avie mare Avary Run. In turn, that mare produced nine winners from nine foals, including Precious Avary’s dam Alytania. 

Smith connected with Shaw through New Jersey training legend Danny Perlsweig. The Maryland Million win mattered to the Parx Racing-based trainer.

“The owners have put so much money into the game and they’ve been in the game a long, long, long, long, long, long-long time,” he said. “We went through two or three years where things just kind of fizzled out. They’re home breeders and they’ve bred wonderful horses . . . It’s kind of trickled down a little bit and the horses haven’t really materialized like we had hoped but this one came out of nowhere and everything is good.”

Repeat in the Turf

On the way out of the winner’s circle after the Turf, somebody joked with owner/trainer Sammy Davis that the race might someday be named for his horse.

“They could call it the Prankster,” Davis said with a cackle.

It might take a third win, but Wicked Prankster could be back in 2024 to give it a go. The 5-year-old Mosler gelding rode a five-race losing streak into the 2023 version – his last win coming in the 2022 race – and made his front-running style stand up to claim the $125,000 race. Ten tackled the Turf’s 11⁄8 miles, with Wicked Prankster setting sail on the lead for Yomar Ortiz. They set solid fractions, built a 2-length lead by mid-stretch and held off late-running Starstruck Notion by three-quarters of a length. Jack’s Legend, a full brother to two-time Turf winner Talk Show Man, was a neck back in third. 

Claimed by Davis for $25,000 in his career debut in 2020, Wicked Prankster won for the fifth time in his 30th start and flashed his versatility. In 2022, he won the Turf six days after winning an allowance race at Laurel. This time, he was making his first start since August.

“I guess he just likes to run,” said Davis. “Last year I just didn’t want to breeze him so I ran him and then ran him in the race. He always runs the best race off a layoff anyways, if you look at his form, you know what I’m saying? He’d been training very good coming up to the race. All his workouts have been bullets. He’s been doing good and he’s 5 years old now so he’s kind of settled down now.”

The same can’t be said for Davis and a slew of well-wishers, who overflowed the winner’s circle and wound up standing in the mud of the main track for a post-race photo. 

“This is all my family,” Davis said with a sweep of his arm toward a crowded bar area for the post-race champagne toast. “They came to support me. There’s always a lot of people. The winner’s circle can’t hold us, so I say, ‘Let’s take it out on the track.’ A win like this matters to everybody, but it really matters to me. It’s important.”

Davis galloped for trainer Gary Capuano for 10 years, partnering with stakes horses Captain Bodgit, Cherokee’s Boy, Grundlefoot and others and trains a string of six at Laurel. He doubles as the stable exercise rider.

“I gallop him every morning, I’m 56, I’m still young,” he said. “I only get on my own, that’s enough for me. The jocks breeze them. I don’t breeze them anymore. He’s tough to gallop, he’s a boy and you just have to leave him alone. It’s just like how he runs the race, that’s how he likes to gallop in the mornings. 

Juvenile Success Story

When some handicapping guru tells you to dig deep to find an angle, the 2023 Maryland Million Lassie might be what he or she had in mind. Broodmare Tejano Sea’s first foal, Keep Momma Happy (by Scipion), won the 2012 Nursery in his debut. Eleven years later her ninth foal, Miss Harriett, won the Lassie in her debut.

Racing for breeder David Baxter’s Narrow Leaf Farm, as Keep Momma Happy did, Miss Harriett and jockey Jean Briceno battled for the lead with Remember Me, took over after a half-mile in :46.31 and held off Sheilahs Warcloud by a neck with Kissedbyanangel third. The winner covered 6 furlongs in 1:12.23 and paid $126.60 to win. Pimlico-based Brandon McFarlane, 2-for-56 on the year coming in, trained the winner. The gray daughter of Blofeld impressed her trainer in the morning, but came in with plenty of question marks.

“I got the gate card three days ago, so that’s something,” McFarlane said. “I got a couple works into her and every single one she beat who she was with. I didn’t know who she was with though. I was just hoping she would dig in. She never had pressure, ever in her life. We never got into her, ever. This is the first time I actually saw a jock get into her. I work her easy, I like nice and easy works – no bullets, no anything and this was the first time I got to see what she’s got.”

Tejano Sea won three races, but her offspring have outdone her. All nine are winners, topped by Cheese On (eight wins), In Arrears (six), graded stakes-placed Hemp, and the two Maryland Million winners.

While a first-timer won the Lassie, Catahoula Moon put his experience to work in the Nursery for 2-year-olds. In his fifth start, the son of Golden Lad broke toward the back but found a spot stalking a slew of pace players before taking over in the stretch and drawing off by 43⁄4 lengths after 6 furlongs in 1:12.24. 

Trained by Jerry Robb for Super C Racing, the dark bay lost his first two starts at Laurel over the summer, then graduated going 61⁄2 furlongs at Timonium in September. Second in allowance company at Pimlico Sept. 24, he surprised Robb with the early success.

“He’s a huge horse, he came as a big dummy,” said the trainer. “A guy in Kentucky broke him and he said it was going to take forever to get him ready. I ran him the first time and he ran a little green. The third time he broke in front and it was over. The last time was a good race because he laid off the pace and came running. He came into this perfectly. Everything went perfect for a change.”

Bred in Maryland by Angela Coombs, Catahoula Moon sold for $19,000 as a weanling and $20,000 as a yearling – where he joined the Super C team headed by Coombs’ husband Mike.

Seven’s Eleven shows speed in Sprint

Steve Reed sounded like he was auditioning for a Maryland Million commercial after winning the Sprint with homebred Seven’s Eleven.

“It’s a good feeling, my first stakes win, first Maryland Million win,” said the Parkton, Md., resident. “I’ve been in the game for a while. I’ve got a couple mares. It only takes one.”

Seven’s Eleven might be the right one. After three starts – each a little better than the one before – last year, the 3-year-old Bandbox gelding opened 2023 with a maiden win, added an allowance in March and came into the Sprint off a runaway allowance score Sept. 29. He backed up that form with another powerhouse effort, scoring by 5 lengths over Twisted Ride and Holy Synchronicity for trainer Carlos Mancilla.

Reed, who bred and raced Seven’s Eleven’s dam Senorita Siete after buying her dam Montana Cottonwood (in foal to Lion Hearted) for $10,000 in 2006, called the stakes win part of a progression.

“I knew, when I pulled him out of the mare, that he could be a nice horse,” said Reed. “I could tell he was athletic. He was a physical animal, he still is. But he looks like a Greyhound. He’s lean and long and lanky, and never filled out. He’s a late foal, almost a May foal [April 30], but more than anything the heart makes the horse too and he’s got heart.”

Delayed by shins and other setbacks, Seven’s Eleven didn’t race until November last year and went more than five months between races this year before returning in September. The Sprint was his fourth win in 10 starts, and a third in allowance company Nov. 2 pushed his career bankroll to $177,230.

Montana Cottonwood (by Horatius) produced six winners for Reed, who races as Cottonwood Stable, and is retired on the farm at age 24. Her daughter Senorita Siete’s first foal, Buffum’s Beauty, won three races in Montana and Wyoming this year after being sold. The Senor Swinger mare has a yearling filly by Street Magician and produced a Good Samaritan colt in 2023.

Reed went racing with his grandfather as a child and got into ownership with a cousin.

“He bailed and I stayed,” said Reed, who owned Lil Indy, the dam of future champion Maximum Security, before selling her for $80,000 in 2014. “I’m just concentrating on making good baby horses now. This is pretty special. We’ll just see how far he goes from here.”

Maryland Million Notes

Robb opened the day with a turf distaff starter handicap win by Don’t Tell Deren, a Maryland-bred daughter of Tourist. Bred by Bowman and Higgins Stable, she cost $6,500 as a yearling and collected her fourth win of 2023 (and sixth overall) for Uptown Girl Racing and Michael Upton. Robb’s double moved him to second on the all-time Maryland Million list with 11, four behind the retired Dale Capuano. . . Fresh off a September claim at Pimlico by Emanuel Geralis Jr., Disputed Claim won a starter handicap for Thousand Watts Racing Stable. Bred in Maryland by Charles McGill, the Golden Lad gelding lost his first six starts but ran his winning streak to three in the 7-furlong sprint . . . Super Ninety Nine mare Bad Temper lit up the tote board at $72 when she won a 7-furlong distaff starter for Brothers In Blue and trainer Gina Perri. Bred in Maryland by William Campbell, Bad Temper won for the third time this year and fourth overall . . . Three-year-old Blofeld gelding Bonded closed the card with a turf starter win over 13 others for JR Sanchez Racing Stable and trainer Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon. Bred in Maryland by Murmur Farm, the winner won for the fifth time in 16 starts . . . Handle on the 12-race card reached $5,391,745, sixth highest in the country on the day . . . Northview Stallion Station’s Great Notion sired a Maryland Million winner (Witty) for the 14th consecutive year. The win made Great Notion the third sire to reach 20 Maryland Million wins, behind Not For Love (37) and Allen’s Prospect (22). Blofeld and Golden Lad each had two winners on the day. Former Country Life Farm stallions Freedom Child and Super Ninety Nine sired the top two finishers in the Classic . . . Toledo won four on the day to give him 17 for his career (pending the Classic appeal decision), one behind Edgar Prado and tied with Ramon Dominguez on the all-time leaderboard. Forest Boyce rode her eighth Maryland Million winner, to tie Julie Krone among female jockeys.

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