Jacks or Better Farm homebred Awesome Banner started out 2018 with a return to the winner's circle. The 5-year-old son of Awesome of Course pulled away to win by a half-length in the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes Jan. 20 at Laurel Park.
In the six-furlong test, which had a field of seven after five scratches, Favorite Tale and Awesome Banner broke sharp and raced to the lead. Awesome Banner put the pressure on Favorite Tale, who set fractions of :22.40 and :45.10 for a half-mile, and finally gained an advantage at the top of the stretch. With some urging from jockey J. D. Acosta, Awesome Banner held off a rally from It's the Journey to prevail. The final time was 1:08.94 over a fast track.
The winner returned $11.20, $6, and $4.60 across the board.
Awesome Banner finished 2017 without a win in 10 starts, but earned placings in five graded stakes, including runner-up efforts in both the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga Race Course and the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. The Fire Plug is his sixth stakes win, topped by his two graded wins in 2016—the Swale Stakes (G2) and the Hutcheson Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
"It's very deserved. He's been running against some of the best in the country. We were just looking for a good trip today and it worked out," winning trainer Ken Decker said. "This horse has the foundation, and we're just glad he finally got the opportunity to get back to the winner's circle."
Bred in Florida, out of the Zamindar mare Miranda Stands, Awesome Banner has a 7-6-3 record from 23 starts and earnings of $863,390.
The win was the fifth overall, and third consecutive, for the John Servis-trained daughter of Dialed In who is owned by Jim Reichenberg and Cash is King. The 4-year-old filly entered off a 2 3/4-length score in the Willa On the Move Stakes at Laurel in December.
"I don't even know what to say about her anymore. (Jockey) Jorge Vargas knows her well and he always gets the job done," said Jennifer Hamm, assistant to Servis. "Words can't express how happy I am and I'm sure the entire barn is right now. She's amazing and she tries and she has so much heart. We couldn't ask any more of her."
In the six-furlong What A Summer, Ms Locust Point and Vargas bobbled just out of the gate and contested the early pace with longshot Seeknthegiantpearl. After putting that competitor away and leading through fractions of :22.34 and :45.45 for a half-mile, Ms Locust Point opened up and continued her drive to the wire. Under a hand ride, she won by three lengths in a final time of 1:09.78.
Off as the 1-9 favorite, the winning filly returned $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10 across the board.
Bred by Lesley Campion in Kentucky, Ms Locust Point is out of the First Samurai mare Whisper Number. She was a $17,000 purchase by Barzini Syndicate as a short yearling at the 2015 Keeneland January sale. From seven career starts, she has five wins and one second, with earnings of $258,960.