`Band' passes latest test with flying colors

Winning Mitchell Stakes warms colt up for Florida, possible shot at classics

Horse Racing

December 14, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

After stakes victories in chilly New York last month and shivering Maryland yesterday, Excellent Band will head to Florida for the warm weather and stern competition that leads - for a fortunate few - to the Triple Crown series.

A 2-year-old about to turn 3, Excellent Band went to school in the H. Steward Mitchell Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park, cruising to a 1 1/4 -length victory as the 4-5 favorite.

Even though the six-furlong stakes named for the longtime Maryland trainer was worth only $40,000, it served a purpose for Lori Testerman, the colt's trainer.

She wanted to teach Excellent Band to rate - to relax behind horses and then close - so she could take him to Gulfstream Park and test the waters in longer races against some of the best young horses in the land.

With jockey Harry Vega in command, Excellent Band broke third in the five-horse field, surged wide around the turn and drove down the stretch for a leisurely win.

It's on to Florida.

"I'm going to have some fun," Testerman said. "We'll see where he takes us."

Ron Reeley, who lives in Ellicott City and owns a construction company, bought Excellent Band for $16,000 at the May sale at Timonium.

He considered that a bargain. If the horse hadn't come out of a pre-sale breeze with sore shins, Reeley might have been priced out of the bidding at $30,000, $40,000, even $50,000.

Excellent Band won two of his first three races, and then Reeley found himself on the other side of the table. Horsemen began approaching, wanting to buy the colt.

Reeley almost sold him last month, but the final offer came too late. Excellent Band already had been entered in the $75,000 Huntington Stakes at Aqueduct. And by then, Testerman said, "We were pumped."

Excellent Band defeated a tough group of New York 2-year-olds in the Huntington for Reeley's first stakes victory in his five or six years of owning horses. He enjoyed the sensation so much, he said, that the colt is no longer for sale.

Excellent Band's next test - and first as a 3-year-old - will be the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes, a Grade III sprint of six furlongs Jan. 10 at Gulfstream.

In the rescheduled $60,000 Politely Stakes, snowed out on Dec. 6, the John Alecci-trained and Alecci-owned Worldly Pleasure upset a field of nine Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies to win the race by a head at odds of 11-1.

Alecci claimed the daughter of Devil His Due for $25,000 in May.

Despite acting up in the gate, as is her wont, Worldly Pleasure won for the fourth time in 14 starts. She's sharp, Alecci said, and he plans to keep racing her.

"She's developed into a pretty nice horse," said the Laurel trainer. "She's legitimate. She can run."

As Alecci dug his hands deeper into his jacket in the winner's circle, he remarked about the cold, but then quickly added: "It gets warmer when you win."

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