With a $150,000 purse, the John D. Schapiro Memorial Breeders' Cup yesterday was the signature event of Laurel Park's abbreviated summer meeting.
The 1 1/8 -mile turf race named in honor of the track's former owner lost some luster when more than half of the original 11-horse field scratched, but it was still a thrilling race for the connections of French Charmer, who scored a length victory at 5-1 odds, third longest in the field.
With the Sondra D. Bender entry of Tam's Terms and Certantee withheld, presumably to run in today's $75,000 Battlefield Stakes at Monmouth Park before the Haskell Invitational, favoritism was bestowed on Rock Slide, the Neil Howard trainee based in Kentucky.
A full brother of the great handicap runner Mineshaft, Rock Slide went off as the even-money choice under Robby Albarado, who was in Maryland specifically to ride him.
But Rock Slide wasn't overly enamored with the cushy going and the consistent French Charmer closed determinedly between horses after stalking frontrunner Glick and Rock Slide for more than a mile.
"Fogelsonger [jockey Ryan] came outside of me [aboard third-place finisher Roxinho] and it made my horse run a little bit," said winning jockey Chris DeCarlo. "When I asked him to go, he took off. Early, I was just staying on the fence and tracking them."
Albarado swung Rock Slide quickly to the inside as the race unfolded, eventually grabbing a 2 1/2 -length lead in the stretch before weakening in the final eighth of a mile.
"I'm not going to take anything away from the winner. He ran a big race," said Albarado. "The soft going wasn't to our liking, but we had an opportunity. We had the lead with three-sixteenths to go. We're supposed to win, but didn't."
French Charmer is trained by Harry Benson, who calls Florida home now after years of training in New Jersey. The French Deputy gelding is spending the summer at Monmouth Park.
French Charmer - now 7-for-12 in his career - was purchased privately for $50,000 by Joe Sweedler of Double S Stable. The gelding has now earned in excess of $229,000.
The winning time was 1 minute, 55.56 seconds in the only six-figure race of the meeting.
The disappointment in the field was second choice Dr. Kashnikow, a seven-time victor on grass who could not launch his customary late bid from far back.
NOTE: Trainer King Leatherbury's quest to reach 6,000 wins remained in neutral. None of his three entries could prevail on the card, leaving Leatherbury with 5,998 victories.
He is winless in 12 starts at this meet.