King Leatherbury ships Ameri Valay to New Jersey today to try to end the horse's reputation as a homebody.
To help the trainer out, Mark Johnston is relinquishing 10 mounts on today's Pimlico Race Course card to ride Ameri Valay in the Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. The horse drew the rail, which should give him a head start in beating the race's other front-runner, Northern Trend, to the lead. That horse drew the extreme outside post in the 11-horse field, which also includes Looming, another Maryland-bred.
During his career, Ameri Valay has won or placed in two dozen stakes, but only once has he ventured out of Maryland and placed in an added-money race.
"I'm trying to repeat last year's feat with Taking Risks," Leatherbury said, referring to the retired gelding that went from Maryland claimer to Grade I winner in Monmouth's Philip H. Iselin Handicap.
Ameri Valay preps today for a potential berth in the Aug. 20 Iselin, followed by a rest and another try in the Maryland Million Classic on Oct. 14. He finished third in the Classic in 1993.
With Johnston out of town, apprentice Geoff Cooper picks up plenty of local action, including three of Johnston's regular mounts on Leatherbury-trained runners.
Cooper, 16, is a student in his home state of Washington and returns there for school at the end of the summer.
At Pimlico today, stakes action is restricted to 3-year-old Maryland-breds racing 1 1/8 miles in the Humphrey S. Finney Stakes on the turf. At least one entry, J J Hansel, who raced at Pimlico yesterday, is expected to scratch. Trainer Dick Small has entered the filly Tough Broad, but she is also among the entries for today's Little Silver Stakes at Monmouth. Linda Gaudet's stakes-winning War Hostage is the Finney favorite.
Nationally, Maryland-bred Awad is the favorite today for the Grade I Sword Dancer Handicap at Saratoga. Glenbarra, who has campaigned locally this year, is also in the lineup but drew the outside post in a bulky 13-horse field and might opt instead for the Battlefield Stakes on tomorrow's Haskell Invitational undercard at Monmouth.
The $500,000 Haskell Invitational is the weekend's richest stakes. The filly Serena's Song heads a 12-horse field, which also includes Mighty Magee, owned by Allan Spath of Baltimore.