Alwaysinahurry, Fille d’Esprit score in Laurel stakes

Sometimes handicapping is a complex task, an intricate dance of weighing class and speed and form and race shape. Other times it’s as easy as figuring out the best horse in the race.

A pair of Maryland-bred stakes Saturday at Laurel Park were good examples of the latter, as the formful Alwaysinahurry and five-time stakes winner Fille d’Esprit took down the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial and Politely, respectively.

“I love this race,” Fille d’Esprit’s trainer and co-owner Jerry Robb said after his charge registered a 5 ¾-length win in the Politely as the 3-5 favorite. Robb-trained runners have won the last three runnings of the Politely, with Anna’s Bandit in 2019 and Princess Kokachin in 2021 – the race was not run in 2020 – preceding their stablemate.

Under regular pilot Xavier Perez, Fille d’Esprit, a onetime $10,000 claim, was away alertly to stalk the pace while up close and clear, with first Targe and then Paisley Singing leading the way. Fille d’Esprit cruised up wide to strike the front entering the lane and drew away to win in 1:10.77 for six furlongs on a fast main track.

Fille d’Esprit paid $3.20 to win, and with second choice Juror Number Four finishing second, the one-dollar exacta returned just $3.00.

It was Fille d’Esprit’s fifth stakes win of the year. She now has 12 wins and earnings of more than $598,000 from 23 starts. Bred in Maryland by Sweet Spirits Stables LLC, the six-year-old daughter of Great Notion is owned by C J I Phoenix Group and Robb and wife Gina’s No Guts No Glory Farm.

“She’s really given us a lot of excitement since we had to retire [Anna’s Bandit],” Gina Robb said after the race, adding that, with Anna’s Bandit scheduled to deliver a Tapit foal in mid-January, “This is a big deal.”

Jockey Angel Cruz was all smiles after Alwaysinahurry won the Bender Memorial. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

As to the future, Robb said she’ll be racing again soon with the next big goal a return date in the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie in February at Laurel. Fille d’Esprit ran third in that race in 2022 and, if she holds her form, will likely be a major player once again.

“We’ll race her ‘til she doesn’t want to race anymore,” John Robb said.

That win came one race after Alwaysinahurry surged to the lead, turned back a bid from One Ten, and won the Bender Memorial Stakes by 1 ½ lengths in 1:23.85 for seven furlongs.

One Ten, arriving off back-to-back sharp allowance scores, both at a mile, looked like a winner when he challenged One Ten and jockey Angel Cruz in upper stretch. But Alwaysinahurry’s trainer, Dale Capuano, said he was “just a little” concerned about the rival’s bid.

“He’s coming off those long races back to shortening up and we’re stretching out an eighth, so I know he’s probably a little fitter horse,” Capuano said. “But I just knew in my heart I had a better horse.”

Alwaysinahurry rebuffed One Ten and inched away to the win, while that runner held second, four lengths clear of Going to the Lead. Favored Monday Morning Qb, dropping back to a sprint after four consecutive two-turn races, finished fourth.

Alwaysinahurry, a five-year-old Great Notion gelding, earned his second career stakes win and now has five wins and just less than $300,000 in career earnings from 19 starts. He is owned by Maury Povich’s Mopo Racing and was bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman, Quin Bowman, and Rebecca Davis.

Off as the second favorite, Alwaysinahurry paid $7.40 to win. The exacta returned $15.10 on a one-dollar wager.

“This year he’s been unlucky, I felt,” Capuano said. “He should have won two or three more races. [In the] Maryland Million [Sprint] he drew the extreme outside, had a way wide trip, and I thought he ran well that day. So I felt good going into this race.”