“Cinderella” horse Alwaysmining scores in Jennings
Alwaysmining won the Jennings Stakes at Laurel Park. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
Last winter and spring, Maryland-bred Alwaysmining caught the imagination of racing fans everywhere while reeling off a six-race win streak that landed him in the Preakness starting gate.
His future, of course, remains to be written. But on a cold, gray Saturday at Laurel, the four-year-old Stay Thirsty gelding served notice that he may be ready to start making some noise in the regional ranks when he posted a 1 3/4-length victory in the Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds.
It was Alwaysmining’s third race since returning from a nearly-five-month break.
“He’s trained great since he’s come back, and he’s gotten better with each race,” winning trainer Kelly Rubley said afterwards.
“We’re glad to be here again. Alwaysmining looks to us to be better and more developed,” said Greg Bentley, who with his wife Caroline formerly raced as Runnymede Racing LLC and now race as Runnymoore Racing. “We have quite looked forward to his racing against older horses, being a gelding, and I think he’s looking forward to it also.”
He certainly did in the one-mile Jennings.
Under jockey Julian Pimentel, aboard for the fourth consecutive start, Alwaysmining broke alertly and quickly attained a stalking position behind the lead of longshot Bustoff. The duo bided their time for the first six furlongs — gone in a modest 1:13.08 over a track rated good — before taking command in the lane.
Alwaysmining kicked clear leaving the furlong grounds and had plenty in the tank to hold a clear advantage over the hard-trying John Jones, who overcame a stumble leaving the gate to earn the place spot, finishing in the money in this event for the fourth year in a row.
Clubman, wheeling back just a week after finishing second as the favorite in a Charles Town stake, took third. Running time for the one-turn mile was 1:37.75, and Alwaysmining cruised the final quarter-mile in a sharp 24.67 seconds.
“The one-turn mile is probably his best distance,” Rubley said.
She and the Bentleys gave Alwaysmining time away after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last July. That was his third consecutive defeat, a streak that ran to five after a close-up fifth in the six-furlong Bender Memorial and an improved second in the Native Dancer, both in December at Laurel.
“I think the time off did him a lot of good,” Rubley said. “He’s put on weight and filled out nicely in a lot of places where he needed to fill out.”
Alwaysmining won for the eighth time in 18 career starts, and the score pushed his earnings past the $475,000 mark. He returned his many backers $2.60 to win, and the $1 exacta returned just $3.40.
The connections were mostly mum on Alwaysmining’s future, but Greg Bentley did allow that the slate of Maryland-bred and -sired stakes look like productive spots for their barn star.
“We want to be in the Maryland-restricted races. Alwaysmining deserves to be there,” he said. “We will learn — it’s all new to us — where to go from here.”
Last season was new to the Bentleys, too: their first foray into the frenzy of the Triple Crown trail.
It was just about a year ago that Alwaysmining caught fire. He won two December 2018 stakes for two-year-olds, and then as a sophomore, he added victories in the trio of Maryland stakes — the Miracle Wood, Private Terms, and Federico Tesio — that comprise the local route to the Preakness.
His run ended there, when, after looming a threat with about a quarter-mile to go, he ran out of gas and finished 11th. Still, for a horse who’d taken four tries to break his maiden, it was quite a productive year.
“Things come to a crescendo with the Triple Crown and you can’t not go for that,” Greg Bentley said. “We were really glad to represent Maryland, as it were.”
The ease with which he was winning, and the speed figs he was earning, had Marylanders dreaming of the first Maryland-bred to win the Middle Jewel since Donnie Miller and Deputed Testamony slipped through along the rail to win it for trainer Billy Boniface in 1983.
“Baltimore really embraces the Preakness, and the state, and rooting for the prospect of the Maryland-qualified horse,” Greg Bentley said. “It was fun to be part of that. Somebody else won, but we don’t regret having that chance.”
“It was a fairy tale,” added Caroline Bentley. “We were like Cinderella at the ball.”
Now, after finding his way to the winner’s circle for the first time in six starts, it seems like the glass slipper might still fit, after all.
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