“Dreaming bigger,” Luna Belle rolls in Weber City Miss

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Heading into the latest edition of the $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes at Laurel Park on Saturday afternoon, so much of the attention was focused on 1-9 favorite Luna Belle that many onlookers assumed the event was a foregone conclusion.

They were right.  

Well before the compact group of six sophomore fillies loaded into the starting gate for the one-mile and one-sixteenth affair that serves as the last local prep for the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 20, Luna Belle had stamped herself a special filly.

In a sport where owners, breeders and trainers brace themselves for disappointment and occasional shocking upsets, Luna Belle has been unbeatable since last December. Saturday afternoon she punched her ticket to the Black-Eyed Susan by rallying from well off the pace in her customary fashion to forge a 4 ½-length score over 6-1 second choice Khuluq for her fifth straight stakes tally. Running time over a fast main track was 1:45.44. 

Trainer Hamilton Smith, also the co-breeder and co-owner of the sophomore daughter of Great Notion, has given journeyman jockey Denis Araujo a leg up on five occasions and then promptly greeted him in the winners’ circle a few minutes later all five times.

“She’s really a handful in the morning, but Denis worked her [April 9] and told me she’s as good as ever,” Smith said of Luna Belle, who has won all four of her starts this year,and six times in 11 career outings, with lifetime earnings now just past $380,000. “This race today was virtually a replay of her other stakes win [in the Wide Country]. Denis rode her perfect. He was able to let her relax and settle and when she started her rally she was really good. She just waits for room and then once she finds it she’s able to finish up well.”

The homebred daughter of Great Notion won just once from her first six starts with three different riders. She finished fourth as the favorite in the Maryland Million Lassie last fall, two starts after graduating against maiden special weight foes on the main track at Colonial Downs. But since Araujjo has been handed the reins, Luna Belle has now reeled off five straight stakes victories.

Luna Belle kicked off her winning skein in last December’s Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship. Since then, she’s added handy, odds-on scores in the Xtra Heat, the Wide County and the Beyond The Wire and today’s Weber City Miss.

“This filly has really changed my life,” Araujo said. “Before she came along I think people thought I was just a Charles Town jockey, but she’s been such a blessing. Today there was a little speed up front, so I just let her relax and then when I asked her going into the far turn she really responded. She’s so much different in the morning. She’s got a lot more speed in the morning. But on race day, she relaxes and just lets me rate her and ask to run when it’s time. I can’t thank the connections enough for giving me the opportunity to ride this filly. I never expected to get a mount on a filly this good so soon.”

Through the early stages of the Weber City Miss, Luna Belle was reserved well off pace as Chardonnay set the early tempo through a half-mile in 47.85 seconds and three quarters in 1:12.19, her nearest pursuers Zawish and Khuluq.. Luna Belle, meanwhile, was nearly a half-dozen lengths off the pace through the opening half-mile.

When Luna Belle commenced her rally along the rail entering the far turn she rapidly gained third. Then Araujo steered her three-wide for clear sailing and simply let the sophomore daughter of Great Notion do the rest from there.

“Every time I run her, people always ask me when I’m going to give her a little break,” Smith said. “But she comes out of the races so good, she’s never been the worse for wear. When she shows me she needs some time off, then I’ll give her a break.”

That break won’t come right away, however. A bigger goal awaits.

“Right now the plan is to go in the [Grade 2] Black-Eyed Susan and then after that I will probably give her some time off,” Smith added. “After that, people want me to take her on the road, but she’s been able to do so well right here at home, there’s really no reason to leave.”

Deborah Greene co-owns the sophomore filly; her late late father, Fred Greene, Jr. is also one of the co-breeders of Luna Belle. It was her father who got her involved in racing; Luna Belle was the last of the homebreds that he ever saw.

Greene fought back the tears in the winner’s circle after the Weber City Miss Stakes. 

“When she won the [Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship], I was at a Christmas party and watching on my phone and I was screaming so loud you would have probably thought that somebody died,” Greene said. “I really can’t say seeing her win these races is like a dream come true, because I’ve never really dreamed this much. But now I’m dreaming. Now I’m dreaming a lot bigger.”