LAUREL SXB — LAUREL -- Question put to trainer Dale Capuano before yesterday's featured eighth race:
Who's got the best 3-year-olds on the grounds?
Capuano: They're all in this race.
Not quite. But close.
The $16,000 allowance was treated like a mini-stakes, a preview for some of the more talented local 3-year-olds, and a possible showcase for the speedy gelding Pie In Your Eye.
Pie In Your Eye, after sending the keepers of speed figures into orbit in only one winning career start, was bet down to 3-5 odds.
But after the 6 1/2 furlongs had been run, it was Western Miner who emerged as a major new player in the 3-year-old ranks.
His trainer, Carlos Garcia, has nominated over the years five 3-year-olds to Triple Crown events. But after yesterday's effort, he considers Western Miner his best hope in the classics.
It was only the third career start for Western Miner. He was put away for four months after bucking his shins in the Bimelech Stakes Oct. 13.
Yesterday, Pie In Your Eye became engaged in a speed duel with Silent Wolf, a former claimer, getting the half mile in 45 seconds. Then he floundered in the stretch.
Western Miner, who moves close to the ground -- a "daisy cutter" in racing parlance -- drew off and beat him by four lengths. The time of 1 minute, 17 seconds was the fastest for a 3-year-old at 6 1/2 furlongs at Laurel this year. I'm Wild, an older horse, posted the same time Jan. 11.
Garcia said Western Miner, who was purchased out of the Saratoga sales as a yearling for $190,000, might now run in 3-year-old stakes at Aqueduct. The Swift Stakes (March 7), the Bay Shore Stakes (March 21) and the Gotham Stakes (April 4) are possibilities.
Walter Guerra, the 29-year-old Panamanian who just moved to Maryland from Florida, rode Western Miner "and now has preference on my horses," Garcia said.
Western Miner is owned by the Burning Tree Farm of Richard Kirstein of Bethesda and Marvin Delfiner of Cherry Hill, N.J., and well-known Maryland owner, Sondra Bender. Bender, who has her own large stable, is an equal one-third partner.