Jockey Ryan Fogelsonger didn't have a mount in the $75,000 Politely Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico until a little bad luck turned in his favor.
Fogelsonger's agent, Kevin Witte, arrived at the racetrack late Thursday afternoon, moments after a terrible breakdown in the seventh race. When Witte discovered veteran jockey Mario Pino had broken his right collarbone in a fall, he checked the entries for upcoming race days, saw Pino had been named to ride a fast filly coming in from Kentucky and called the trainer to offer Fogelsonger as a replacement.
The move proved to be a wise one as Two Punch Gal, ridden by Fogelsonger, repelled challenges from two other state-bred 3-year-old fillies to win the Politely by a length.
"It's a bad way to pick up the mount," Fogelsonger said in the winner's circle. "Kevin said, 'I called the guy and you'll be on the favorite in the stake Saturday.' "
It doesn't hurt that Fogelsonger, 23, of Laurel, can tell out-of-towners he is the leading rider in Maryland.
Kentucky-based trainer Carl Nafzger, best-known for training 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, saddled two maiden winners at Churchill Downs on Saturday and entrusted local conditioner Mary Eppler to care for Two Punch Gal.
Nafzger didn't bother to call Fogelsonger with any riding instructions, but Two Punch Gal appeared to have a pretty good idea of how to run the race without help.
With talented Spirited Game a late scratch by the stewards, Two Punch Gal was bet down to odds of 3-5 in the five-horse field. When the gate opened for the six-furlong sprint, Sea of Promises bounded to the front on the outside, but Two Punch Gal quickly corralled her and took over.
After a quarter-mile in a moderate 23.85 seconds, Perilous Night, trained by Richard Small, made a bold move on the outside to join Two Punch Gal and Sea of Promises, who doggedly held her ground between horses.
At the top of the stretch, Two Punch Gal and Sea of Promises pulled away and dueled before Two Punch Gal edged away, crossing the finish line in 1 minute 11.96 seconds. At one point it appeared Sea of Promises would go by, but Two Punch Gal refused to be headed.
"My horse ran good," said Greg Hutton, who rode Sea of Promises for long-time employer John Robb. "I got beat by a better horse."
Fogelsonger said Two Punch Gal, who had played the role of closer in her seven prior races, made the lead on her own. "I didn't even ask her to come out of there," he said. "She put herself there. She had a nice breather around the turn and then held them off."
Witte said it wasn't as uncomfortable going after the mount for his rider knowing Pino wasn't seriously injured in the fall, in which his mount, Look at Her, was euthanized after breaking a leg.
"I saw the replay and it looked terrible," Witte said. "The next thing I see is Pino standing by the doctor's office. He didn't look too bad."