Favorite Tale, Bishop’s Pond impress in Laurel stakes
by Frank Vespe
Laurel Park ran two $100,000 stakes January 8 on a dreary Monday when a threatened ice storm didn’t really materialize, and the results of both had winning connections thinking of bigger races down the road.
In the one-mile Thirty Eight Go Go for older fillies and mares, Bishop’s Pond simply ran her rivals off their feet, leading throughout before drawing away to a 5 1/2 length victory. One race later, in the six-furlong Dave’s Friend for four-year-olds and up, Favorite Tale turned back a vigorous challenge from Struth to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a sharp 1:08.93.
For Favorite Tale — third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland — it was his first trip back to the winner’s circle since 2015.
“He likes a harder track than here today, so for him to get it done here today tells me all I need to know,” said owner and breeder Paul Conaway. “I’m just so proud of the horse.”
Following his bold effort in the Breeders’ Cup, Favorite Tale won the Fabulous Strike at Penn National to conclude his season. The next year, he made a single start, running third against a salty allowance field at Parx Racing.
Because of a variety of issues — including surgery to remove bone chips — Favorite Tale, a Pennsylvania-bred, was unable to make planned dates in Dubai in the first part of 2016 or that year’s Breeders’ Cup.
He finally made it back to racing this past September when he was a good second — beaten just a half-length by The Man, then recording his seventh consecutive victory — in the state-bred Banjo Picker Sprint Stakes at Parx. Conaway hoped he might be Breeders’ Cup-bound for a second time, but he finished a well-beaten seventh in the Grade 2 Phoenix to dash those hopes and then, this past November, couldn’t quite get by the runaway speed of Chief Lion, settling for another near-miss second in the Fabulous Strike.
“We got him back to where we want him to be,” Conaway said. “We’ve had a couple races this year, lost by a head here, a head there. He really gets angry when he loses.”
That turned out not to be a concern today. Under jockey Frankie Pennington, Favorite Tale went right to the lead and took the field through an opening quarter-mile of 22.40 seconds over a fast main track. He held a half-length lead over Struth after a half-mile in 44.73, but that rival looked to be revving up a winning move.
But Favorite Tale fought back, turned aside Struth’s bid, and stretched his lead out to over a length at the wire, stopping the clock in 1:08.93 for six furlongs. Struth held second, and Great Stuff was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Favored Afleet Willy had some issues out of the gate and could do no better than eighth.
“He was bound and determined today, and Frankie (Pennington) did a great job,” Conaway said of his charge. “And Lupe (trainer Guadalupe Preciado) did a great job.”
Favorite Tale, a seven-year-old gelded son of Tale of the Cat out of the Grindstone mare Tricky Elaine, now has nine wins and just over $1 million in purse earnings from 23 career starts. He paid $15.20 to win and topped an exacta worth $115.
With that first win in over two years under his belt, Conaway allowed that, yes, the Breeders’ Cup would be a goal if all were to go according to plan. But he also knows that in racing, things often don’t go to plan. Either way, he has a happy horse on his hands.
“I know he’s back,” Conaway said. “You have to know this horse a little bit. He loves what he’s doing; he loves what he’s doing.”
One race prior, Bishop’s Pond continued what is becoming something of a late career revelation when she dominated the Thirty Eight Go Go.
The six-year-old Curlin mare made the first 20 starts of her career on turf with modest success: three wins and a stakes placing dotted among her races. In her 21st start, though, trainer Jason Servis put her on dirt, in an open allowance race at Delaware Park. In a short but salty field that included three stakes winners, Bishop’s Pond dominated, winning off by four lengths. A follow-up try in the Grade 1 Beldame didn’t go as well — she was fifth — but here, she had plenty.
“When I got on her this morning, the way she galloped around, even though they had a week in New York without training, due to the track being closed due to the weather, she jumped on the bit right away,” said winning rider Rosario Montanez. “I said, ‘Man, I got a lot of horse underneath me. They’re going to have to run today to beat her.'”
Like Favorite Tale, Bishop’s Pond wasted no time, going right to the lead. She held a short lead after a half-mile in 46.98 seconds, and widened it from there. She widened the lead to two lengths after six furlongs, and then — for good measure, threw down the seventh furlong of the race in less than 12 seconds.
“When I took a hold at the quarter pole, she jumped on the bit,” Montanez said. “I said, ‘Man, let me sit a little bit longer. (With the finish line at the) Second wire, I don’t want to move too soon. Once I showed her the whip, she took off.”
She did, and Montanez soon was rewarded with the first stakes win of Bishop’s Pond’s career. She paid $9 to win and topped an exacta, with 15-1 Sky Flower in second, good for $125.20. Miss Inclusive, a 20-1 shot, was third, while favored Crimson Frost was sixth.
Bishop’s Pond now has five wins and $316,527 in purse earnings from 24 career starts. More intriguingly, this longtime grass runner now also has two wins from three starts on the main track.
NOTES The two stakes contested today originally had been scheduled for December 30 but were postponed to January 5 when that day’s card was abandoned after seven races — and then postponed again until today after Friday’s and Saturday’s cards were lost to the cold… Line of Best Fit stumbled leaving the gate in the Thirty Eight Go Go and dumped rider Kevin Gomez. Gomez was reported to be OK immediately after; he rose and walked under his own power.