Laila’s Punch Keeps Her Cool at Lau­rel

The Washington Post Sunday - - Horse Racing - By John Schein­man

At first, trainer Ed­die Gaudet was au­da­cious with his filly Laila’s Punch, putting the daugh­ter of top Mary­land stal­lion Two Punch in a stakes race in her very first start as a 2year- old. That day last Septem­ber at Lau­rel Park, Laila’s Punch showed her in­ex­pe­ri­ence, los­ing her cool, flip­ping over dur­ing sad­dling in the pad­dock and fin­ish­ing a mis­er­able sixth.

Since then, Gaudet has taken things easy, al­low­ing Laila’s Punch to un­spool her con­sid­er­able tal­ent nice and slow. The ex­tra pa­tience and school­ing has paid off, and Laila’s Punch paid her boss back yes­ter­day, re­pelling two se­ri­ous chal­lenges in the stretch to win the $ 90,000 Smart Halo stakes for 3- year- old fil­lies at Lau­rel Park.

Af­ter a flat- footed start un­der lead­ing jockey Jeremy Rose, Laila’s Punch reached the lead­ers at the far turn in the six- fur­long race be­fore tak­ing over and fend­ing off Now It Be­gins and the late rush of Pay­ing Off. Her win­ning time of 1 minute 12.39 sec­onds was far from sen­sa­tional, but she showed pro­fes­sion­al­ism by not giv­ing in to horses breath­ing down her neck.

“ There were some nice fil­lies in there,” Gaudet said. “ She’s kind of show­ing she be­longs here. I like to give them a lit­tle time. How many times can they run in a year? You’re bet­ter off pick­ing your spots.”

Laila’s Punch may not have won if Now It Be­gins had a bet­ter trip. Un­der vet­eran rider Mario Pino, the sec­ond- time starter for trainer Michael Trom­betta dropped back steadily on the back­stretch while rac­ing on the inside af­ter be­ing roughed up in tight quar- ters.

Pino rode high in the sad­dle un­til fi­nally an­gling to the out­side on the turn, con­fronting Laila’s Punch in the stretch and fight­ing un­til the end, miss­ing sec­ond by a nose to Pay­ing Off.

“ The filly in front wouldn’t give up,” Pino said. “ I tried to lean in on Jeremy to get some game­ness into her be­cause she was hang­ing. The win­ner is nice. We just couldn’t get by.”

Laila’s Punch has now won three of five starts, two in stakes races.

“ She’s go­ing to keep on im­prov­ing,” Gaudet said.

Rac­ing Notes: The Lau­rel turf course saw its first ac­tion of the year as 14 horses lined up for the ninth- race finale, a one­mile, $ 25,000 op­tional- claim­ing race. Classy and Fast, rid­den by Luis Gar­cia for trainer Ben Feli­ciano Jr., briefly lost the lead in the stretch but re­gained it to win by a half- length ...

While the Florida Derby held the spot­light at Gulf­stream Park, a 3- year- old trained by Lau­rel Park- based Michael Trom­betta con­tin­ued his steady progress on the un­der­card. Fight­ing off a game chal­lenge by Yes­byjim­miny in the stretch, Trom­betta’s Street Ma­gi­cian held on to win the $ 175,000 Aven­tura, run­ning the seven- fur­long dirt race in a swift 1: 22.38.

While nom­i­nated to the Triple Crown, Street Ma­gi­cian has only made three ca­reer starts, win­ning his past two, and Trom­betta will not push to get the Ken­tucky Derby.

“ We’re go­ing to take a good hard look at the Withers [ April 28 at Aqueduct] and take it from there,” said Trom­betta, who pointed out that Bernar­dini used the same race last year as prepa­ra­tion be­fore win­ning the Preak­ness Stakes.

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