A stakes-laden program at Laurel on Saturday includes a pair of Grade 3 events in the $200,000 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup and the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, with the former a particular highlight as it marks the return to action of Glorious Empire.
An Eclipse Award finalist in 2018 for champion turf male, Glorious Empire has been out of action since December when he concluded his four-for-six campaign with a wire-to-wire score in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream Park. The now eight-year-old also won the Bowling Green (G2) and Sword Dancer (G1) last summer, though his championship aspirations took a hit when he trailed home last of 13 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) after setting the pace over the deep, inside part of the Churchill Downs course.
Glorious Empire was aiming for the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream in January when he was sidelined by injury.
“That was our whole goal – running in the Pegasus – but he came out of the Fort Lauderdale with the start of a tear in the suspensory,” trainer Chuck Lawrence said. “We’ve done everything we can to make that 100 percent. Knock on wood, it’s been very good. He hasn’t missed a beat.
“A mile isn’t his best distance. I think he’s a lot better and a mile and an eighth or a mile and three-eighths, but I think it’s a good steppingstone back. He’s done everything right in his works. He’s eating well, looks tremendous.
“I’m not saying he’s not good enough to win it, but I think he’s better at a mile and an eighth or further. I don’t have him 100 percent fit for this race, but with his talent, he could jump up and win it.”
Among those lining up against Glorious Empire are Just Howard, winner of the Oceanport (G3) at Monmouth Park two back; multiple graded stakes winner Caribou Club; stakes winner Up the Ante, a recent allowance scorer at Saratoga; and dual allowance winner Frontier Market, a lightly-raced six-year-old making his stakes debut for Chad Brown.