Md Million: Fortheluvofbourbon, Fille d’Esprit deliver

A pretty good argument could be made that the two best horses on Saturday’s Maryland MIllion card were both sprinters. Fille d’Esprit, a six-year-old Great Notion mare, entered the Maryland Million Distaff with three 2022 stakes wins already in the bank, while Fortheluvofbourbon, a five-year-old Bourbon Courage gelding, entered on a five-race heater, including three stakes wins.

When the dust had settled, both emerged with Maryland Million victories.

Fortheluvofbourbon (Paco Lopez) benefited from patient handling through the far turn before drawing away to win by 1 ½ lengths over the game 2020 winner Karan’s Notion and the late-running Alwaysinahurry. Defending champ Air Token was scratched. Running time for the six furlongs on a fast main track was 1:10.96.

A five-year-old Smart Angle gelding trained by Michael Pino for owner Smart Angle LLP, Fortheluvofbourbon recorded his sixth straight victory, notched his seventh win from nine starts this year and now sports 12 wins and over $570,000 banked from 23 career tries.

“The trainer told me before the race that he was coming into the race good, so he just wanted to leave it up to me,” Lopez said. “He’s usually on the lead, but today he didn’t break as sharp and I just let him relax early. But when I asked him on the far turn, he responded. Once he switched leads at the quarter pole, he just went on.”

“I always leave the strategy up to the riders,” Pino said. “He was coming into the race really good. Paco had him in a great spot on the far turn and when he made the lead turning for home I knew he was going to be okay. He’s really turned out to be a nice sprinter. It’s always such a thrill to win one of these stakes on Maryland Million Day.”

The win was the second Maryland Millioni score for Pino and the first for sire Bourbon Courage.

Earlier, in the $100,000 Maryland Million Distaff for fillies and mares, Fille d’Espirit (Xavier Perez) lived up to her role as the 8-5 favorite when she saved ground down the backside and through the far turn, surged to command between horses at the head of the lane and edged past Malibu Beauty for a 1 ¼-length score.

Fortheluvofbourbon proved best in the Maryland Million Sprint. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

A six-year-old Great Notion mare trained by John (Jerry) Robb for owners C J I Phoenix (Carl Iannotta) and No Guts No Glory Farm (Robb and his wife Gina), Fille d’Esprit had made her six previous starts at six different ovals, recording two stakes wins along the way and running second to graded stakes winner Frank’s Rockette in the $250,000 Pink Ribbon Stakes at Charles Town. 

On Saturday afternoon she rallied gamely between horses on the far turn to notch her fourth win from 11 starts this year and she now sports 11 wins and over $550,000 banked from 22 career outings.

“I came here today really with just one shot at winning today, so I’m glad that she came through,” Robb said. “I was a little concerned when it looked like she started to drop back a little on the far turn. But she responded when [Perez] set her down on the far turn. She’s got a couple of more of those Maryland-bred stakes here this fall and then we’ll see about trying her in the open stakes here this winter. We might take a shot at the [Barbara] Fritchie. Why not?”

Fille d’Esprit ran third in the 2022 edition of the Grade 3 Fritchie, a race that stamped her one to watch going forward.

“The intention breaking from the rail was to use the same tactic that we used before and just try to head for the lead,” Perez said. “We got a perfect rail ride. Turning for home I saw [Fool Yourself] start slowing down, and I tipped out and it was game over from that point on. She switched to her right lead, and she just fired on.”

“It got a little tight on the far turn, but I knew once she got through she was fine,” said Iannotta, who arrived at Laurel following a five-hour flight from Las Vegas and a prior start earlier in the day at Delaware Park. “She’s just a tremendous mare. Once she found room turning for home, I knew she was going to win from there.”