Thunder Flash, with an assist from the thunderstorms of the previous night, notched an easy win in the $50,000 Japan Racing Association Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park.
The race had originally been scheduled for the turf, but the wet conditions forced it to come off the grass.
Rain or shine, jockey Mario Pino liked his chances. Pino was signed to ride morning line favorite Candy's Devil, trained by Michael Dickinson.
But Dickinson scratched his horse because of the surface deviation. Trainers of six other entries also opted out, cutting a field of 14 3-year-olds in half.
The saddle of the colt with the best record on dirt, Thunder Flash, was still open after the shift was announced. Pino became trainer Tim Ritchey's first choice to fill it.
"Tim told me going in that I could have the ride if the race was taken off [the turf]," said Pino. "And Mr. Dickinson, well, he's one of the best trainers around. So the way I looked at it, I was in a good spot either way."
Thunder Flash had won five of his eight career starts, all on dirt, and in so doing had accumulated $125,400 in earnings.
By post time, Harry's Halo looked to be the only colt able to mount a challenge to Thunder Flash. The son of Cure The Blues is trained by Grover "Bud" Delp, best known for saddling Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, and owned by members of the Meyerhoff family, who owned that hall of fame horse. Delp clearly didn't mind moving off the turf, since all but $6,000 of Harry's Halo's winnings of just over $138,000 had come on dirt.
When the gates opened in the 1 1/4-mile stake, Special Dancer, the longest shot in the field at odds of 20-1, took the lead, and held it until the one-mile mark. Pino, following Ritchey's instructions, kept Thunder Flash just behind the early leader, but didn't let his mount force the pace.
Going into the last turn, jockey Mario Verge, aboard Harry's Halo, began an inside charge that took him past Thunder Flash and Special Dancer and to the front. Just as quickly as Harry's Halo had taken the lead, however, he lost it. As soon as Pino asked Thunder Flash to fire at the top of the stretch, he did, leaving the rest of the field to contend for second place.
Thunder Flash, who went off as the favorite, hit the wire in 2 minutes 5 seconds, and paid $4.80. Harry's Halo nudged Special Dancer for second.
"All day long I saw that the rail was slow, and that the three-path was the fastest today," Pino said after the race. "So going in I was going to stay outside, and things worked out like I thought they would. I had the best horse."