OZONE PARK, N.Y. — Repole Stable homebred Always Shopping, under a perfect trip engineered by meet-leading rider Manny Franco, made her stakes debut a winning one, graduating in style in the $100,000 Busanda at Aqueduct Racetrack on Feb. 3.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the bay daughter of Awesome Again, out of the popular stakes winner Stopshoppingmaria, got the better of rivals Filly Joel and Miss Marilyn, who had kept her a maiden in her last two starts, to score a 1 1/4-length victory as the 2-1 post-time favorite.
With the win in the 1 1/8-mile test for sophomore fillies, Always Shopping picked up 10 points towards a berth in the Kentucky Oaks, slated for May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The Busanda, offering 10-4-2-1 qualifying points was the second in the Oaks qualifying series at the Big A, following the Grade 2 Demoiselle, held on Dec. 1, which was won by Positive Spirit.
Filly Joel, with Jose Lezcano in the irons, left the gate with intent from post 8 in a nine-horse field, emerging from a sextet of front-running contenders to mark the opening quarter-mile in 23.91 seconds as Miss Marilyn, from the outside post under Junior Alvarado, was hung out wide through the opening turn.
Always Shopping, who broke from the inside post and saved ground along the rail from fifth position, was content to track the leaders through a half-mile in a swift 48.52 seconds as Filly Joel continued to dictate terms under close watch from Getting Warmer and Miss Marilyn on the main track labeled fast.
Filly Joel maintained her lead through the final turn as Franco urged Always Shopping off the rail and began to reel in the leader with every stride. Always Shopping, full of run, easily swooped a game and determined Filly Joel and secured a well-earned win in a final running time of 1:52.24.
"We were cautiously optimistic about this spot. We were always looking to stretch her out and get her to race at two turns. She hadn't broke her maiden yet, but she had run well in her last start," said assistant trainer Byron Hughes. "Manny did a great job saving ground and tilted her out down the stretch. She's the grinding type and kind of grinded out the win. At this point, we'll see how she comes out of this race and go from there."
Franco, who leads the meet with 51 wins, said the nine-furlong distance suited his filly.
"The distance helped her a lot. Last time [runner-up to Miss Marilyn on Dec. 14 at Aqueduct] she went a mile and the speed held up. I liked the distance today for her," said Franco. "The trip worked out great. I just wanted to make sure she came out of there well and get my position before the turn, and that's what she did. After that, she did it nice."
Filly Joel picked up four qualifying points, completing the exacta 5 1/2-lengths in front of Afleet Destiny, who closed belatedly to earn two points.
Lezcano, who guided Filly Joel to a romping 6 ¼-length maiden win over Always Shopping on October 25 at Belmont, said his outside post was a factor in the outcome of the race.
"I had a pretty good trip. The first turn kind of hurt me a little bit. I had to use her a bit to get down towards the rail from my post," said Lezcano. "It might have hurt us in the end, but she gave a good effort and it was a good race. She tried hard the entire way."
Miss Marilyn picked up one point for finishing fourth. Discreet Sister, Lady Banba, Getting Warmer, Floss Dancer and Destiny Over Fate completed the order of finish. Elegant Zip and No Mo Lady were scratched.
The Kentucky-bred Always Shopping, a half-sister to stakes winner Mo Shopping, improved her record to one win and two seconds from four starts while banking $55,000 in purse earnings. She paid $6.30.
The New York-path to the "Lilies for the Fillies" continues at the Big A on March 9 with the $250,000 Busher Invitational and on Wood Memorial Day, April 6, with the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle also awarding points to the top-four finishers.
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