`Promenade' blooms late

After 1st graded stakes win, filly to face top-notch Keeneland field

Horse Racing

October 07, 2006|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

On a cool morning at Laurel Park, Promenade Girl's narrow brown face appears over the stall door. She must know timing is everything. It is just then that her trainer, Larry Murray, happens by with a handful of peppermints.

The 4-year-old daughter of Carson City eagerly dips her nose into Murray's hand for the treats, and the trainer rubs her forehead with his free hand.

These two became a successful team over the summer, as Murray has turned the filly into a winning interstate traveler.

"It's been fun," said Murray, who has put Promenade Girl on a different path from many of her homebred stablemates, choosing to send the filly out of state to take on stronger and stronger competition.

Tomorrow, she is scheduled to run in the Grade I, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes in Lexington, Ky., on Keeneland's new Polytrack surface. She will be taking on a field that includes at least two of the top four horses in the Breeders' Cup poll for the Distaff Division, trainer Todd Pletcher's Spun Sugar and Andy Leggio Jr.'s Happy Ticket.

"It's a bit more ambitious," said Murray, who indicated Promenade Girl shouldn't be bothered by the unusual synthetic surface. "I've always thought my job as a trainer was to pick spots for my horses where they were most likely to win. But she has shown that she deserves a chance to compete among this caliber of competition. When we beat Round Pond [in August], she was ranked fourth in the country.

"We'll see what happens. It would be lovely to win, but I'd be tickled to wind up second."

Promenade Girl was born late for a racehorse, dropping to earth as a May foal, which meant she wouldn't hit her best stride until a little later in her career. As Murray, who trains for owners Howard and Sondra Bender, watched the horse develop, he recognized an early physical immaturity.

But now, he said, it's a whole different story.

In June, Murray sent Promenade Girl to West Virginia for the $75,000 Golden Sylvia Handicap at Mountaineer Race Track. After she won, he gave her two months off to grow into her body.

When she returned to the track Aug. 27 for the Grade II, $294,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Stakes at Monmouth Park, Promenade Girl was ready for what to that point was the toughest test of her career.

She won by a head under the guidance of jockey Jeremy Rose after dueling the entire front stretch with Round Pond, a multiple graded stakes winner. Round Pond is trained by Michael Matz, who gained fame last spring with Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

The win was Promenade Girl's first graded stakes victory and career win No. 8 in 14 starts. It brought her earnings to $460,540.

"The summer break helped her body catch up to her mind," Murray said. "A lot of horses don't really get to full maturity until they're 4 or 5 and the well-bred colts are retired early."

But fillies can be a different story, and this one is being given the chance to prove her worth.

"We knew she was a nice horse from the beginning," owner Sondra Bender said. "And when they prove themselves, it's always something special, and this horse has proven herself."

The Benders own Glade Valley Farms near Frederick, where Murray has been their trainer and farm manager for 17 years.

"We know it is a little unusual these days for owners to have a private trainer," Sondra Bender said. "But Larry is with our horses from the time they are born. He sees them from birth on. We think it is a big advantage, and we have no plans to change."

It is one of the few private trainer jobs left in the country, and Murray said it has been "a lot of fun."

Over the years, Murray, 53, has trained 24 stakes winners for the Benders.

Note -- At Laurel Park today, 3-year-olds will contend in the $100,000 Sonny Hine Stakes.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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