Ah Day upsets favorite in Fire Plug Stakes

Horse Racing

January 21, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Reporter

Ah Day, with jockey Mario Pino up, had a great day in the six-furlong, $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes at Laurel Park yesterday, roaring down the stretch for a come-from-behind, 3 3/4 -length victory over favorite Crafty Schemer.

Gold Cluster was third, another 1 1/2 lengths back.

"He hadn't been out in two months, which he needed, and he was freshened up," trainer King Leatherbury said. "He was appropriately placed in this race, but I didn't expect him to win it. He hadn't had any lightning workouts or anything, but this was a very, very impressive race."

In the co-feature, the $100,000 What A Summer Stakes, Silmaril, the 6-year-old daughter of Diamond, sprinted to a three-length victory over Scheing E Jet. La Chica Rica was third.

Ah Day ($9.40, $3.60, $3.60) started in the one hole and was content to save ground along the rail in the early going. But as he came around the turn for home, the Maryland-bred 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon picked up speed, forcing Pino into some quick decision-making and causing some fans in the grandstand to shout warnings about getting trapped.

But Pino, a savvy veteran, knew he had to do something fast.

"It's like driving a car and something happens right in front of you and you've got to get out of the way fast," he said. "Ah Day started coming up on the two horses in front of him so fast, I knew I had one chance to tip him out of there."

So he moved the horse out to the third lane near the top of the stretch and then moments later jerked him back to the rail for a last rush that overtook Crafty Schemer on the final drive.

"I know he's a good horse," Pino said of the gelding that won six stakes races last year before ending his 3-year-old season with a disappointing run in the Northern Dancer Stakes. "But, running against older horses for the first time, he had the spring in his legs. Those other horses were mature, but it felt like he'd matured well too. The last five-sixteenths he was really running."

Leatherbury didn't disagree.

"He just exploded," said the trainer, who hopes to run Ah Day in the Grade II General George Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 19. "That might be the best race of his life."

In The What A Summer Stakes, Silmaril ($3.00, $2.20, $2.10) left little doubt why she was the favorite in the six-horse field of fillies and mares, 4 years and up.

"When I asked her to go, she just said, `No problem,' " jockey Ryan Fogelsonger said. "She's just by far the best horse I've ever ridden. She makes things easy and makes me look like I know what I'm doing. She's a phenomenal horse."

Trainer Chris Grove, who just wanted a solid race in preparation for the Grade II Barbara Fritchie on Feb. 17, also was impressed.

"She's won five stakes at five different distances," Grove said. "That's special. I'd always ask my dad [Phil, a longtime jockey in the Mid-Atlantic] what made a horse special and he was always impressed by the ones who could win at every distance. Being able to win today is impressive because that is what he instilled in me as a kid."

Grove also explained that it took Silmaril until last summer to get over her impressive win over Ashado in the Grade III 2005 Pimlico Distaff Handicap.

"I think when she beat Ashado that's the best she's ever been," he said. "She ran her eyeballs out that day and it took her a long time to get over it. But right now, she's good and she's consistent. ... Every time we bring her over here, she fires. I would love to try a Grade I [race] if she were to win the Barbara Fritchie."

Grove said he believes one of the reasons Silmaril is running so well is because of the work of groom Hugo Garcia and exercise rider Oscar Mancilla.

"They don't get enough credit," he said. "I really think it is because of the way they take care of her that she is running so well."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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