With Odds in Her Favor, Lexi Star Cruises to Easy Victory in the Geisha Handicap

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 9, 2007

After a long, hard campaign, in which she competed in stakes races nine of the first 11 months of the year, rugged and consistent 5-year-old mare Lexi Star was due for a well-earned vacation on the farm. Yet when yesterday's $60,000 Geisha Handicap for Maryland-bred fillies and mares rolled around, trainer Chris Grove couldn't pass up the chance to beat up on a weak field and earn some easy money for owner Stephen Quick.

"She needs a breather, but I wasn't going to give her one with a $60,000 workout in the making," Grove said.

With five low-powered runners at her mercy, the smart money at Laurel Park poured in on Lexi Star, a multiple stakes winner of more than $400,000. Bettors hammered her odds to 1-5, and of the $208,419 wagered into the show pool, $197,833 went down on her number.

When the gate opened, Scheing E Jet, the only other horse in the field with any speed, was taken back by her rider, Richard Monterrey. With that potential pace challenger eliminated, Lexi Star went right to the lead and effortlessly galloped around the muddy track to a 7 1/4 -length victory. Jockey J.D. Acosta, 26, won his first stakes race in Maryland, guiding Lexi Star through the 1 1/8 -mile race in a moderate and comfortable 1 minute 53.90 seconds.

Katie's Love, trained by Nancy Alberts, vainly chased the entire way and held off Scheing E Jet for second by 3 1/4 lengths.

"The reason I went to the front was none of the [other] horses went to the front, so I let her go and tried to slow down the pace," Acosta said. "I didn't want to beat her up to win real easy. I just wanted to keep the horse happy."

With her ears flicking back and forth as she crossed the finish line, Lexi Star certainly looked pleased.

For Grove, the victory helped relieve some of the residual sting he continues to feel from Maryland Million Day, in which he sent out nine competitive runners -- including barn aces Silmaril, Five Steps and Lexi Star -- and failed to make a single trip to the winner's circle.

"There was so much buildup, and we didn't have the day we wanted," Grove said. "If you take this business seriously, we're all here to win. It's one thing when you're 20-1, but when you like a horse and the rider likes the horse, and you get three uppercuts like that in a row, it's hard to get off the canvas."

Grove, however, has much to be thankful for: With the $36,000 first prize for winning the Geisha, Lexi Star and the great mare Silmaril have combined this year for $679,024 in earnings.

Lexi Star will now get a 60-day vacation and then work toward Grove's prime objective, the $1 million Delaware Handicap next summer. Silmaril will have one final race in the near future and then retire to the breeding shed.

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