Until recently, Cruise Along had done most of her running and all of her winning on the turf. But a huge recent effort has earned her trip a to New York to try for a graded stakes win in Saturday's $100,000 Affectionately Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct where she will be tested by a tough group of fillies and mares.
The Affectionately is contested at 1 1/6 mile.
Sondra Bender's Cruise Along was entered in the Geisha Handicap at Laurel Park on Dec. 7, a race restricted to Maryland-bred fillies and mares on dirt. She surprised everyone, including trainer Lawrence Murray, when she drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths at 7-1.
"The only reason we ran her in that race was because she was doing so well and we thought she could get a piece of a $100,000 race for Maryland-breds," Murray said. "She made her first four starts on the dirt. We changed surfaces with her and she really took to the grass, so we never really thought about the dirt again until her last start. She didn't have a super year on the turf last year, mostly because we had trouble finding good grass courses after all that rain."
Although she was defeated in the Montauk Handicap for New York-breds in November by Queen's Triumph and Message Red, Our Canterbury Stables' Golden Damsel may have run the best race.
Golden Damsel suffered a minor knee fracture when she romped home in the May 18 Bouwerie. The injury did not require surgery, just some time off. The Gold Token filly returned to the races on the turf in the Nov. 9 Perfect Arc division of the New York Stallion Stakes.
"I rushed her into the stallion stakes to get a race into her before the Montauk and she was not as tight as I wanted her for the Montauk," trainer Gary Contessa said. "She can be a little headstrong and she got out in front by eight lengths down the backside in the Montauk. Had she sat a length in front, she might have been able to win. Still, she only got beat 2 1/2 lengths after opening up like she did, so it was a good effort."
Following the Montauk, Golden Damsel returned to the winner's circle when she wired a field of second-level allowance foes over a muddy inner track last month.
The field for Saturday's Affectionately Handicap (gr. III) (orig. scheduled for 1-10-04) includes:
1. Consort Music (Julian Pimentel, 112)
2. Cruise Along (Mike Luzzi, 115)
3. Dancen in the Sun (Norberto Arroyo Jr., 112)
4. Golden Damsel (Aaron Gryder, 112)
5. Queen's Triomphe (Jose Espinoza, 114)
6. Austin's Mom (Pablo Fragoso, 112)
7. Green Jeans (C.C. Lopez, 112)
8. Message Red (Javier Castellano,116)