Trainer Larry Murray had hoped to land jockey Jeremy Rose to ride Promenade Girl yesterday in the $75,000 Geisha Handicap, but it wasn't a very good week for the rider. It started with Rose watching his prized mount, Preakness and Belmont stakes winner Afleet Alex, retired because of an injury. Things went further downhill when surgery on his wisdom teeth went awry.
With Rose out of action, Murray waited until Saturday morning to pick a replacement, and his choice, Erick Rodriguez, made the most of the opportunity.
Galloping easily, 10 lengths off a fast half-mile pace set by Dance Fee, Rodriguez sent Promenade Girl on an outside journey and swooped past the leader on the far turn. The elegant filly with a white blaze on her forehead then pulled away to a commanding 23/4-length victory.
Promenade Girl, owned and bred by Howard and Sondra Bender of Bethesda, picked up the second stakes victory of her seven-race career, running the 11/8 -mile race in 1 minute 51.49 seconds.
Murray and the Benders mulled using several different jockeys before choosing Rodriguez, who ranks ninth in the Laurel Park riding standings.
"Everybody agreed Erick might fit her the best," the trainer said. "This is a delicate filly. She doesn't like to be manhandled."
Rodriguez, who has struggled with injuries this year, had little time to prepare for the race.
"I didn't even know I was going to ride this filly today," he said. "I just arrived at the jockeys room and saw that he had put me on her. I saw in the [Daily Racing Form] she had really good form."
Indeed, Promenade Girl, a 3-year-old daughter of the late sprint-oriented stallion Carson City and a mare by the powerful stamina influence, Pleasant Colony, had begun to look like one of the best fillies in Maryland after her big win Sept. 7 in the Twixt Stakes. Murray followed that race with a gamble, entering Promenade Girl against males off a two-month layoff in the Northern Dancer Stakes.
The filly stalked in third place that day but was unable to catch front-running winner Gold Casing.
Nevertheless, Promenade Girl went off as the 2-1 favorite in the field of eight in the Geisha.
When the gate opened, Dance Fee, who raced most of the year at Delaware Park, shot to the lead, running a quarter-mile in 24.08 seconds. Despite having a wide lead, Dance Fee failed to settle down, unfurling a second quarter mile in 23.48 seconds. "I was worried after the first fraction in 24 and change, and if they slowed it up from there, we would have been in trouble," Murray said.
Promenade Girl circled from the outside to run Dance Fee down. Take a Check rallied on the inside to finish second.
Murray said Promenade Girl would have one race before running in the prestigious Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap in February.
"That's an awful big one coming up," he said.
Racing Note: Jockeys Chris Van Hassel and Josue Beltran-Torres were suspended indefinitely last week by the stewards after submitting urine specimens that tested positive for marijuana.