Two years ago, Larry Murray sent out 13 stakes winners as private trainer for Howard and Sondra Bender, the Bethesda couple who have long ranked among the leading Maryland breeders at their Glade Valley Farm in Frederick.
Murray had six stakes winners last year as well, a lifetime best number for many conditioners, but this year the well ran dry. Heading into yesterday, the first day of the 78-day Laurel Park fall meet, Murray had sent out just six winners from 67 starters with no stakes wins at all.
He finally broke through yesterday when his talented and heavily favored Promenade Girl routed nine other 3-year-old state-bred fillies under jockey Jeremy Rose to win the $75,000 Twixt Stakes.
"This has been a disaster year," Murray said in the winner's circle with the Benders nearby.
Promenade Girl ran the one-turn mile dirt race in 1 minute 38.52 seconds to beat runner-up Magical Broad by 71/4 lengths. She bore in slightly in the stretch, slightly intimidating her main rival, but Rose saw that as a good thing.
"I thought I'd let her throw a little dirt in [Magical Broad's] face," he said. "These are young horses. That will discourage them a little bit."
The Twixt was the third win in six starts for the filly, the daughter of a mare for whom the Benders paid $450,000 more than six years ago.
The 10-race opening day card also included the first race run on the huge, new Laurel turf course, and Murray and the Benders won that, too.
Rose guided Access Agenda, a 7-year-old gelding to victory in a $25,000 claiming race, hopped off in the winner's circle and gave the course high marks.
"It had a little bit of dirt coming up," the rider of Preakness and Belmont stakes winner Afleet Alex said, "but it's nice."