LAUREL, MD. 03-26-11---Sylvia Heft’s Eighttofasttocatch battled shoulder-to-shoulder with Marilyn’s Guy through the stretch before edging clear to win the closing day feature at Laurel Park, the $75,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes.
Ridden by Sheldon Russell, who led all jockeys during the winter meeting with 45 victories, Eighttofasttocatch covered the nine-furlong distance in 1:50.64 and won by a half-length. The win was the first in a stakes by the 5-year-old gelding.
It was his second consecutive win since trainer Tim Keefe decided to remove blinkers on the son of Not For Love, who captured an allowance race here last month by 9-3/4 lengths and registered a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure.
“The last time he ran we took the blinkers off and the idea was to try and get him to relax,” Russell said. “He relaxed nicely last time. Tim told me try and get him to relax again and use some of that early speed later in the race. He is a completely different horse He is able to relax and kick in when he needs to.”
“I have always loved him,” Keefe said. “He just got too worked up and did too much too early and couldn’t finish. We took our time with him and changed things up in the morning which also really helped. I wasn’t sure he was going to get the mile and an eighth distance today but Sheldon did a marvelous job.”
Keefe finished second in the trainer standings during the meet, with 16 victories from 57 starters, a 28% win clip. The 43-year-old Maryland native also captured a pair of stakes races with Red’s Round Table for Arnold Heft, Sylvia’s husband. Russell rode 14 of the 16 winners.
“No question this is the best meet we’ve ever had,” said Keefe. “I have the best owners. They are realistic about their horse’s abilities and let me run them when I want to run and where they need to run. The help in the barn has been fantastic. They pay attention to small details and are a big factor in our success.”
“This is phenomenal for Tim,” added Russell. “He is one of my main clients. Fourteen of my wins came for him, which is nearly a third of our total. Without him I don’t win the riding title.”
Eighttofasttocatch paid $13. He topped a $43.40 exacta over Marilyn’s Guy. Multiple graded stakes winner No Advantage completed the triple, which paid $87.80. the winner upped his record to six wins in 23 starts with earnings of $189,940.