Likely Passage provided an unlikely conclusion to yesterday's $54,500 Virginia Belle Handicap at Laurel, defeating front-running favorite Mine Tonight by two lengths and producing a $30 win mutuel.
The 5-year-old mare won two of three races after she was claimed for $18,500 in November by Dennis Heard, who trains for New Jersey-based owner Glenn Lane. But after running third in an allowance race and fourth in the Conniver Handicap, she was largely overlooked by yesterday's crowd of 10,650.
Even Heard's optimism was tempered, although he believed Likely Passage -- a full sister to Sparrowvon -- was likely to improve.
"Her last three races were on frozen tracks, and she's a little arthritic," Heard said. "Today, the track had more of a cushion on it, and I have to believe that helped her. I wish I could say we did something special or changed something, but we didn't."
Likely Passage was assigned 106 pounds -- 11 pounds less than Mine Tonight (3 to 2) and Smart 'N Quick (8 to 5) -- so Heard selected one of Maryland's lightest journeyman riders, Danny Wright.
Wright broke Likely Passage energetically from the outside, post 7, and they were alongside Smart 'N Quick through the first turn, about two lengths off Mine Tonight. A New York-based mare, Mine Tonight had defeated a small allowance field at Laurel in her previous start, when she gained a sizable early lead and coasted. She was unable to duplicate that feat yesterday.
Halfway through the 1 1/8-mile Virginia Belle, Smart 'N Quick and Likely Passage were maintaining mild pressure on Mine Tonight. Entering the far turn, Smart 'N Quick began to lose momentum. As she did, Wright sent Likely Passage to challenge the leader.
She encountered little resistance. Likely Passage accelerated past Mine Tonight around the far turn and gradually broadened her lead through the stretch, finishing in 1:53 1/5. Now Your Teapottin rallied for third, a half-length behind Mine Tonight.
Completing the field were Smart 'N Quick, Scotch Heather, Droiture and Night Owl, who was pulled up after six furlongs.
Likely Passage's performance was worth $35,425 to Lane and gave the owner his first stakes victory in Maryland since Heard transported a stable to Laurel last fall. It also moved Heard into a seventh-place tie with Dale Capuano in Laurel's trainer standings.
Although Heard is responsible for the condition of his horses, Lane determines the composition of his stable.
"We have a great thing," Heard said. "He's the originator of each idea, and I then try to carry it out. Maybe I'll suggest something to him; but, basically, he's the architect, I'm the bricklayer."
And they're still building.