New Year’s Eve also Ladies’ Day at Laurel

by | Jan 2, 2017 | Breaking, Features, Maryland, MD Racing, Racing, Top Stories

A fist pump from Jorge Vargas, Jr. as Ms Locust Point wins the Gin Talking Stakes for two-year-old fillies. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

by Ted Black

Saturday afternoon may have marked the official end of the racing season nationally for 2016, but at Laurel Park it was unofficially “Ladies’ Day” as a quartet of female conditioners and several equine distaffers took center stage.

Longtime local conditioner Mary Eppler was honored as the leading trainer at the Laurel Park fall meet, having secured the title one day earlier when she saddled Gloria Patri to win Friday’s opener for owner Frank Batten. Eppler finished with 24 wins for the meeting, eight more than trainer Gary Capuano.

Eppler put the exclamation point on the meeting in Saturday’s first race when Double Whammy, a horse she trains for herself and Adam Staple, won easily against starter allowance rivals.

“It’s wonderful and it’s great for the barn, because they have been great help,” said Eppler, 62, who won the fall meet title although her top trainee, Page McKenney, has been idle since running second in the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic in April. “I just take it one race at a time and one step at a time, because you never know what can happen in horse racing.”

Then just past the midway point of the Saturday card it was another local woman who earned the spotlight when John Jones led throughout to capture the $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds in wire-to-wire fashion for trainer Lacey Gaudet. A now-five-year-old Smarty Jones gelding that Lacey trains for Matthew Schera, John Jones has won five of six starts for his new connections since being claimed for $25,000 on July 17.

“This horse really is the easiest horse to get along with in the barn,” Gaudet said. “He’s not only talented, he’s also really cool to be around. Today I was happy to see some of the speed horses scratch out of there. I still knew the 10 horse would press us a little bit. But the mile was perfect for him. We’ll see how he comes out of this race, but I would like to point him for the General George here in February.”

Jockey Luis Garcia has been aboard John Jones for all six starts since Gaudet and Schera claimed him, guiding him to five victories including a pair of stakes. Garcia sent the 1-2 favorite to the front in a leisurely, 25-second opening quarter-mile and steered him to a handy score in 1:36.34 for the one-turn mile.

“Once he made the front leaving the chute he really was on cruise control,” Garcia said. “I knew that I still had a lot of horse left turning for home. I got after him a little bit inside the sixteenth pole, but I really wasn’t worried. He’s really good right now.”

One race later in the $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes for two-year-old fillies, Ms Locust Point (Jorge Vargas, Jr.) also gained command leaving the chute and lived up to her role as the even-money choice when she drew clear late to a four-length score in 1:22.43 for the seven furlongs. A juvenile daughter of Dialed In trained by John Servis for owners Jim Reichenberg and Bruno De Julio, Ms Locust Point notched her second straight score and more than doubled her career earnings to $105,000 from three tries.

Ms Locust Point’s running time was a bit faster than the 1:22.71 in which Irish War Cry navigated the same distance two races earlier in the Marylander Stakes, for two-year-olds.

“This filly has a lot of talent,” said Vargas, whose lone mount on Saturday was aboard the Servis trainee. “She has a lot speed. I knew she would break out of there okay. I had to hit her a few times left-handed because she’s still green. But she’s going to do really well next year.”

Then one race later in a formful renewal of the $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes for fillies and mares, second choice High Ridge Road outfought favored By The Moon in a battle of four-year-old fillies who hail from barns of New York-based female conditioners. Coincidentally, both High Ridge Road and By The Moon were foaled in Kentucky on March 28, 2012.

High Ridge Road, a daughter of Quality Road out of a Devil’s Bag mare trained by Linda Rice for owner Martin Schwartz, had been second in the Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct four weeks earlier. She has now won all three of her starts over the Laurel Park strip and sports a 4-2-3 slate and $234,000 bankroll from 10 career tries overall.

By The Moon, a daughter of Indian Charlie trained by Michelle Nevin for owner Jay Em Ess Stable, had been fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Sprint at Santa Anita last out after running second in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. Two months earlier she won the Grade 3 Bed O Roses at Belmont Park, and her only other win in 2016 came in the $100,000 Caesar’s Wish Stakes at Laurel Park. She now owns a 4-5-1 slate and $940,000 bankroll from 14 lifetime outings.

Nevin had won earlier on the card, when Forever Liesl, a now-three-year-old Mineshaft filly she trains for Kallenberg Farms, rolled to a five-length win in a maiden special weight test.