By Joe DeVivo
Norman Asbjornson had a reputation for consistently picking up small pieces of purses in stakes without ever winning an added-money event. It certainly looked like that trend would continue Saturday afternoon at Laurel Park when Eighttofasttocatch came into the stretch of the $90,500 Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes with a huge lead while Norman Asbjornson was chugging along far behind.
But Eighttofasttocatch’s bid to win the Johnson for the third straight year was foiled when Norman Asbjornson came flying late to blow past the tiring pacesetter.
Ridden for the first time by Jeremy Rose, the 5-year-old Norman Asbjornson ($14.20), a Pennsylvania-bred son of Real Quiet, had managed to collect a bankroll of more than $358,000 despite never winning a stakes in 11 previous tries. He was second in the Grade 3 Gotham while making his stakes debut in March 2011 and the runner-up again twice last season in the Skip Away at Monmouth Park and the Swatara at Penn National.
A troubled trip in last month’s John Campbell Handicap prompted trainer Carlos Mancilla to switch riders, putting Rose aboard Norman Asbjornson for the first time in the ridgling’s 20th career start. Mancilla is filling in for trainer Chris Grove, who is serving a suspension. Mancilla has been Grove’s top assistant for 16 years.
Rose feared that he might have left his mount with to much of a deficit to overcome after Eighttofasttocatch cruised to an uncontested three-length lead after a quarter-mile in 24.60 seconds and opened up by 15 lengths through a half-mile in 47.68 and six furlongs in 1:11.81.
“We got a clean trip and I knew my horse could get the distance,” Rose said. “At the top of the lane, I knew I had the two favorites beat,” referring to 4-5 favorite Koh I Noor and 5-2 second choice Javerre. “But I didn’t expect [Eighttoffasttocatch] to be that far in front. I didn’t know if I had left my horse with too much ground to make up. He overcame me and got the job done.
In winning by 1 1/2 lengths, Norman Asbjornson completed the distance on a fast track in 1:51.77. Eighttofasttocatch had to settle for second with Grade 3 General George Handicap winner Javerre checking in third. Koh I Noor, making his stakes debut after winning four straight races, wound up fourth in a field of six older horses.