'Maria' earns Black-Eyed Susan



Repole Stable's Stopchargingmaria returned to her winning ways May 16 at Pimlico Race Course, but had to fight to get the job done in the $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Closing three wide off the final turn in pursuit of Vero Amore, the 3-year-old Tale of the Cat filly appeared to have her opponent measured in the middle of the lane. Vero Amore dug deep, however, and it was only a determined surge from Stopchargingmaria that ensured her victory by a neck in the final strides.

It was the first win of the season for Stopchargingmaria, who last year flashed brilliance in the Tempted Stakes and Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack in November. The Todd Pletcher trainee did not head on to the Breeders' Cup from there, however, and was reserved for a 2014 campaign that until now had not gone according to plan.

Stopchargingmaria began her season with a fifth in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park in February and followed up with a fourth in the April 5 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Third time appeared to be the charm, however, as the bay filly came in under Javier Castellano.

"To be honest, I'm not really sure why her first two races this year didn't go as well as last year," Plecher remarked. "It took her a little while after the Fantasy to get back. After the Fantasy we took her up to Saratoga, and the cool weather seemed to invigorate her. Today she acted like she was back to her old self."

It was the first time Castellano had ridden Stopchargingmaria since partnering with her for her two prior stakes scores. He also rode her to a runner-up finish in the Spinaway Stakes on a sloppy, sealed track at Saratoga Race Course last summer.

"It set up perfectly for us and i had a beautiful trip," Castellano said. "We took a look at the race beforehand. We figured there'd be a lot of speed and I just wanted to put her in a good position. We saved ground going into the first turn and after that it was a matter of keeping her in the clear. I had ridden her before at Saratoga on an off track, and she had no problems with it today at all. At the top of the stretch, I was pretty confident."

Longshot Image of Anna struck out for the early lead in the 1 ⅛-mile Black-Eyed Susan, and held that spot to set a sharp pace on the good track through a quarter in :23.74 seconds and a half in :48.90 seconds. Stopchargingmaria was back off the leader in fifth as they went up the backstretch, while Vero Amore tracked closer to the pace in second by about a length.

Vero Amore ranged up to collar the front-runner heading into the final turn, and Castellano sent Stopchargingmaria following right along. Vero Amore took over heading for home, but it was a short-lived advantage as the eventual winner closed three wide and leveled out for the drive.

Getting a mile in 1:39.19, Stopchargingmaria drew on even terms with her rival and then was all-out to eke out the score. Fortune Pearl rounded out the trifecta 2 ¾ lengths behind a final time of 1:51.79. It was the fourth Black-Eyed Susan victory for Pletcher, who previously sent out winners Spun Sugar (2005), Panty Raid (2007), and In Lingerie (2012).

Sent off at 7-2 in a field of 11 sophomore fillies, Stopchargingmaria returned $9.60, $5.60, and $4. Vero Amore returned $12.80 and $9.40, while Fortune Pearl paid $5.80. Joint Return, America, Arethusa, La Mejor Fiesta, 3-1 favorite Shanon Nicole, Sloane Square, Euphrosyne, and Image of Anna completed the order of finish.

The Black-Eyed Susan winner is the first foal out of the stakes-winning Montbrook mare Exotic Bloom, and was bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke and the Seitz's family's Brookdale Farm. Clarke, the breeder of champion I'll Have Another and Grade 1 winner Havana, lives in New Jersey and keeps his mares at Brookdale in Woodford County.

Clarke and Brookdale sold the Demoiselle winner to Woodford Thoroughbreds for $47,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale. Repole Stables went to $220,000 to buy her from Woodford Thoroughbreds, agent, at the 2013 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training.