Trainer Chris Grove never works his two big mares, Silmaril and Lexi Star, together in the morning because he doesn't want to break either one's confidence.
"Right now, they both think they're gods," Grove said yesterday. "Or goddesses."
One week after Silmaril finished an unlucky second in the Grade II $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel, Lexi Star took her turn yesterday, going right to the front and clobbering six overmatched fillies and mares to take the $86,400 Maryland Racing Media Handicap.
As a Maryland-bred and Maryland Million nominee, the 5-year-old mare took down the majority of the bonus money in the purse and earned $60,000 for owner-breeder Stephen Quick.
Only one other horse in the field, Philadelphia Park shipper Raging Rapids, had won a stakes race, and jockey Ryan Fogelsonger asked Lexi Star to take the fight to her opponents early. He immediately opened a 2 1/2 -length lead after a dawdling quarter mile in 25.09 seconds. It's True Love, ridden by Oliver Castillo, futilely chased in second but could never close the gap.
When Lexi Star reached the stretch, Fogelsonger shook her up with a few right-handed cracks of his whip, and she pulled away to win by 6 1/4 lengths, running the 1 1/8 -mile race in 1 minute 51.27 seconds.
Lexi Star won for the seventh time in 14 career starts and picked up her third stakes victory in her past four outings.
"She's improved a lot," Fogelsonger said in the winner's circle. "She does it a lot easier. At the top of the stretch, I knew we were in control."
Grove called the victory the culmination of a three-race series he had in mind for Lexi Star. She finished fourth in the Geisha Handicap for Maryland-breds in December before easily winning her next two starts in open company, taking the Nellie Morse on Jan. 27 and then the Maryland Racing Media Handicap.
Grove now must find a new objective for his developing runner, while keeping her away from Silmaril.
"I still have the same problem I did in September," he said. "Keeping the two separated."
Racing Notes: With snow, sleet and freezing rain expected in the region, Laurel Park canceled live racing for today. The track will be opened for simulcast wagering. . . .
Charles Town Races & Slots and Penn National have both closed their tracks to horses shipping from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia as a result of suspected cases of the equine herpes virus at a farm in Virginia. The virus, which causes respiratory and neurological disorders, killed four horses at Maryland tracks late last winter.
The embargo, called for Friday by West Virginia state veterinarian Martha Hunt, decimated Charles Town racing immediately, with nearly 30 horses scratched Friday night, leading to one race with two horses and another with three.
Maryland Jockey Club President Lou Raffetto said the decision was an overreaction because no horses have tested positive at any regional racetracks.
"There is a plus side to this," Raffetto said. "Our horsemen have to stay here and support the program. Last night [Friday] proves how much Charles Town needs our horsemen. But these [tracks] don't care. They've got slots."