A couple of fillies nearly took flight in a couple of features yesterday at Laurel Park.
Swept Away, a Mystery Storm filly based in Kentucky, blew away a formidable field in the $100,000 Safely Kept Stakes, a Grade III six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies.
And Silent Valay, a 4-year-old Carnivalay filly based at Bowie, swept away challengers in the $50,000 Alma North Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile venture for females originally slated this summer at Timonium. It was rescheduled after a rainstorm forced the cancellation of Timonium races.
Swept Away won by 2 1/2 lengths, Silent Valay by five. They were clearly best, expertly ridden and finely tuned.
"I think you're looking at [the development of] one of the best sprint mares in the country," said Steve Flint, son of Bernie Flint, trainer of Swept Away.
Swept Away has won eight of 12 races. She has never been worse than third. Although stabled at Churchill Downs, the Safely Kept was her second straight victory at Laurel. She won the Stormy Blues Breeders' Cup Handicap last month by nearly six lengths.
"She really takes to this track," said Jeremy Beasley, her Kentucky jockey.
Breaking from post 8 in an eight-horse field, the 3-5 favorite raced just behind and outside Another and Sumthintotalkabout into the turn. Then she simply wore them down around the bend and drew away.
Flint said Swept Away might return for the Barbara Fritchie Handicap in February at Laurel. It is a Grade II stakes worth $200,000. It is also seven furlongs. In her two tries at that distance, Swept Away has finished second in tight finishes.
"This is her second home," Flint said.
It IS home for Silent Valay, a Jeanne F. and Hal C.B. Clagett homebred trained by Jerry Robb. Mark Johnston rode her for the second time. Rider and trainer learned from the first effort.
In the Maryland Million Distaff last month at Laurel, Johnston slapped Silent Valay with his whip urging her to dig in on the lead. She began swishing her tail in protest, and Tropical Punch swept by in the final strides to win by a head.
Yesterday, Robb instructed Johnston not to hit the filly. He didn't, but there was no need to. She broke sharply, controlled the pace and pulled away down the stretch.
This was Silent Valay's eighth victory in 25 starts. She's won going long, going short, on the turf, on the dirt.
As she entered the winner's circle, Robb said: "We tried something completely different today."
Asked what, Robb said, smiling: "It's a secret. I can't let everybody know what we're doing."
Johnston, however, quickly spilled the beans about not whipping Silent Valay. In mock protest, Robb admonished the rider.
Referring to Johnston's quick leak, the trainer said: "You couldn't hold water."