Deuces wild in Laurel Park stakes

Although the half-dozen stakes races on the main track at Laurel Park on Saturday afternoon may not have much in common at first glance, the results proved symmetrical. Two trainers, a pair of jockeys, and one stallion each won a pair of stakes on the Winter Carnival program conducted on a fast track.

Trainers Brittany Russell and John (Jerry) Robb each won two stakes on Saturday, as did jockeys Angel Cruz and Jevian Toledo. Russell won the day’s first stake, the $100,000 Xtra Heat for three-year-old fillies with L Street Lady, and the last one, the $100,000 Spectacular Bid with Prince of Jericho, with both winners sired by Munnings.

Robb won the $75,000 Geisha, for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, with Award Wanted, and the $100,000 What A Summer, also for fillies and mares, with Fille d’Esprit. Toledo won with L Street Lady and also with the Norman Cash-trained Plot the Dots in the $75,000 Jennings Stakes for statebreds, while Cruz scored on Award Wanted and also, in the $100,000 Fire Plug, aboard Factor It In, trained by Carlos Mancilla.

“After he [Prince of Jericho] got beat in his last start, [jockey and husband] Sheldon [Russell] told me not to be afraid to run him right back,” Brittany Russell said after Prince of Jericho captured the $100,000 Spectacular Bid in his sophomore debut for his third win in five lifetime outings for owners Michael Dubbs and Morris Bailey. “So I felt confident in being able to run him right back. He’s a stakes winner now, so there’s really no hurry with him. But there is a nice progression of stakes races here [starting with the Miracle Wood] if I decide to run him right back.”

Much earlier on the afternoon, Russell gave Toledo a leg up on L Street Lady and watched that daughter of Munnings overhaul favored Chickieness to prevail in the Xtra Heat Stakes.

L Street Lady had graduated smartly in her second career outing against maiden special weight company with Sheldon Russell aboard and Saturday afternoon she handled stakes company for the first time while getting accustomed to a new rider in Toledo.

“After I rode the first two races, I could see the inside part of the track was a little deep,” Toledo said. “So, I wanted to be patient with Brittany’s filly. She sat right off the speed, and she stayed on her left lead the whole race, but she really responded to the whip when I asked her.”

Roughly 30 minutes after he guided L Street Lady to a victory in the Xtra Heat Stakes for Russell, Toledo steered Plot the Dots to a 5-1 upset in the $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-bred older horses for trainer Norm “Lynn” Cash and owner Built Wright Stables, LLC. After two tries against open stakes company, including the Queens County at Aqueduct, Plot the Dots appeared right at home against Maryland-breds and keyed a one-two finish for Cash in the Jennings with Galerio completing the exacta.

“There really was a lot of speed in there, so I just knew that I had to be patient,” Toledo said. “Once he broke good, I just let him settle and waited to sit off the speed. I knew the outside part of the track was better today, so I kept him in the clear on the far turn. When I went by the favorite [Ournationonparade] I knew he was going to win it. Winning two stakes on the same day does not happen too often. When you do, you know it’s a good day.”

While Toledo had won the first two stakes on the card, Cruz immediately countered by winning the next two. He steered Award Wantedthrough along the rail in the lane to capture the $75,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares for Robb and came right back to guide favored Factor It In to a sharp score in the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes for older horses, a likely prep for the Grade 3, $250,000 General George Stakes here on February 18.

“The last time I rode him he broke sharp and made the lead easy and just kept going,” Cruz said of Factor It In, who had scored in the $100,000 Dave’s Friend Stakes in his previous outing for trainer Carlos Mancilla. “But he really is a versatile horse. Today, he didn’t break on top so I just let him settle, and then turning for home, he really responded for me. I hope he tries the big one [General George] next time out. He is really good right now and this is his home track, so he can stay here and take a shot at the big race.”

After Award Wanted’s a victory in the Geisha with Cruz aboard, trainer Robb later would garner the $100,000 What A Summer Stakes, typically a stepping stone to the Grade 3, $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Stakes here, with Fille d’Esprit with her regular pilot, Xavier Perez in the irons. Fille d’Esprit, who won five of 13 starts and earned over $420,000 last season while competing at six different ovals, has now won 12 of 19 outings at Laurel and sports a 14-4-2 slate and over $675,000 banked from 25 lifetime tries.

“There was a lot of speed in that last stakes [the $100,000 Willa On The Move] and she just didn’t break that sharp and they got away from her,” Robb said. “Today I told [Perez] to keep a little closer to the front. When she started to move on the far turn I knew she was going to be pretty good. She’s been amazing the last two years. She pays the bills for a lot of them. I’ll see how she comes out of this race and then start thinking about [the Fritchie]. If she comes out of this race good, that will likely be her next spot.”