MD Million: Fille d’Esprit looking for more in Distaff

Trainer John Robb and stallion Great Notion both have enjoyed substantial Maryland Million success over the years. Their interests converge again Saturday.

Robb, the veteran Laurel Park conditioner nearing 50 years since he logged his first win, is tied for fourth-most Maryland Million wins with eight, trailing only Dale Capuano (14), King Leatherbury (10), and Mike Trombetta (9). He has three horses entered on Maryland Million day, the best of those being the six-year old mare Fille d’Esprit, the 8-5 morning line favorite in the Distaff.

Great Notion ranks third among stallions with 18 winners, trailing Not for Love (37) and Allen’s Prospect (22). He’ll have a bevy of Saturday runners, and the best of those, likewise, may just be Fille d’Esprit. The only horse with a shorter morning line is another Great Notion, Grateful Bred, 3-5 in the Turf Sprint.

“She’s doing good, knock on wood,” Robb said of Fille d’Esprit a few days prior to the post position draw. 

Fille d’Esprit enters the Distaff without a recorded work since her last start, in the October 3 Roamin Rachel Stakes at Parx Racing, but not to worry: she’s kept plenty busy this year. Fille d’Esprit has made 10 starts this season.

Fille d’Esprit finished third in the Roamin Rachel, not a bad effort by any means but one, contested over a sloppy sealed main track, that came with a built-in excuse.

“She didn’t get a hold of the racetrack,” Robb said. “It was the day a hurricane came through there, and she just didn’t get a hold of it.”

Despite that, it was a lucrative effort. Her third-place finish secured her the title in the distaff sprint division of the MATCH Series. The division win earned owners C J I Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm (Robb and his wife Gina) $30,000 and trainer Robb $15,000. 

Fille d'Esprit
Jockey Xavier Perez says Fille d’Esprit is number one in the Susquehanna Valley. Photo by Kathy Hair/EQUI-PHOTO.

Overall Fille d’Esprit, who didn’t make the races until her four-year-old season and missed most of 2021, has 10 wins from 21 career outings and has earned just less than a half-million dollars. That’s a handsome return on a horse Robb claimed for $10,000 in August 2020.

Fille d’Esprit, out of the No Armistice mare Sweet Valor, was bred in Maryland by Sweet Spirits Stables LLC, who raced her with trainer Christine Clagett in her first three starts before Robb nabbed her.

She ran second in her first start for Robb and then ran off four consecutive victories, a streak snapped when she was a well-beaten sixth in last year’s Maryland Million Distaff. That contest went to Hello Beautiful and tied that runner for the most Maryland MIllion wins by any horse with three.

This year Fille d’Esprit has run exclusively in stakes company, logging three wins while placing in five other outings. She has earned more than $314,000 on the season.

Fille d’Esprit’s toughest competition figures to come from Malibu Beauty (5-2). They are drawn next to each other, with Fille d’Esprit having the rail and Malibu Beauty leaving from the two-hole.

A four-year-old Buffum filly, Malibu Beauty has a pair of stakes wins this year and three for her career. She’s a homebred for ZWP Stable and Non Stop Stable and is trained by Gary Capuano.

Robb also has a pair of two-year-olds entered on Maryland Million day. Bandits Heart, a Mosler colt out of the No Armistice mare Onearmedbandit, is 15-1 on the morning line for the Nursery. A homebred for No Guts No Glory Farm, Bandits Heart is a half-brother to $800,000 earner Anna’s Bandit.

Bandits Heart has competed exclusively in stakes company to date, and while he was well-beaten in two of those, he did win the Delaware certified Dover Stakes two back. He’ll get blinkers on Saturday and Robb’s go-to rider in Xaver Perez.

Robb will also send out Cocktail Dreaming, another No Guts No Glory homebred, in the Lassie. A filly by Bourbon Courage, she is out of the Great Notion mare Gracie’s Hero. Also 15-1 on the morning line, she has a win from five starts to date.

Robb had also planned to enter three-year-old multiple stakes winner Alottahope in the Sprint. But earlier this week, after he had posted a bullet five-furlong work on Saturday, he spiked a fever.