The Robert Meyerhoff stakes machine, which has been churning out lots of seconds and thirds in added-money company but had not won a major race since the April 23 Arkansas Derby, hit the winner's circle at Laurel Race Course yesterday with a new stakes winner.
Higher Strata became Meyerhoff's sixth 1994 stakes winner when he sped six furlongs in 1 minute, 10 3/5 seconds and won the $50,000 Mister Diz Stakes by a nose over Older But Smarter.
Many of the Meyerhoff runners come from agonizingly far off the pace, such as third-place Preakness finisher and Arkansas Derby winner Concern and Looming, who won the Private Terms Stakes at Pimlico in April by coming from nearly 25 lengths off the pace. Both of these horses are offspring of Broad Brush, a sire of long-distance runners.
But Higher Strata, a son of quick former Canadian Horse of the Year, Afleet, is strictly speed.
"He's a rocket," said Andrea Seefeldt, who rode the colt to his front-running score.
The horse was sent off at generous 9.70-1 odds, since it was unknown how he would handle the turf. It was Higher Strata's first grass start, and he was facing a bunch of proven turf performers such as My Frenchman, Maryland Moon, D. Guilford and Older But Smarter. The Meyerhoff horse immediately took the lead and simply outran the other six starters.
Seefeldt explained that Dick Small, Meyerhoff's trainer, wanted to send the horse through his allowance conditions before trying him on the grass.
Small spent the weekend in Chicago, where Concern finished third in the Round Table Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse.
Higher Strata joins Concern, Looming, Broad Gains, Fleet Broad and Sticks and Bricks as 1994 Meyerhoff stakes winners. Between them the six horses have won nine stakes, seven in Maryland and two at Oaklawn Park. In addition to these horses, four other Meyerhoff home-breds Valley Crossing, Frottage, Up An Eighth and Fleet Call have placed in stakes.
Of the 10 stakes performers, Broad Gains is recuperating from a leg injury and Fleet Broad has been retired after cracking a sesamoid after finishing third in the Gallorette Stakes at Pimlico. An 11th Meyerhoff stakes performer, Tennis Lady, was fifth in the Lady Baltimore Stakes this year but has failed to duplicate her 1993 stakes-winning form.
De Francis Dash riding assignments
Two high-profile New York-based jockeys, Robbie Davis and Mike Luzzi, have picked up riding assignments in the $300,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash, which will be run Saturday at Laurel.
Davis, who invaded Maryland with As Indicated in May and won the Pimlico Special, will ride the Bobby Frankel-trained 3-year-old, You And I, in the Dash.
Luzzi, who set the pace last year with Secret Odds but finished seventh, will ride Demaloot Demashoot.
Belmont Park-based trainer Mike Hushion also plans to start both of his horses, Chief Desire and Boom Towner, in the Dash, even though Belmont is offering the True North Handicap, another Grade II sprint, on the same day as the Dash.
Richard Migliore rides Chief Desire, and Frank Lovato Jr. is on Boom Towner.
California invader Individual Style will be ridden by his regular jockey, Chris Antley.
Munch N' Nosh, who was among the dozen preliminary Dash entries, will not start and California-based Memo, considered a possible supplementary entry, will also bypass the race. Tony Rogers, assistant to the horse's trainer, Dick Mandella, said Memo will be rested until the Del Mar meet. Memo won the Grade III Triple Bend Handicap in his last start at Hollywood Park.
Never Wavering, who was not originally nominated, is expected to be supplemented at a cost of $15,000 and will take the place of Munch N' Nosh.
The field for the Dash will probably comprise 12 runners, the largest lineup in the race's five-year history. The 1993 Preakness runner-up, Cherokee Run, is the likely favorite. The starting field will be drawn Thursday.