Army Wife rides rail before winning move in Black-Eyed Susan

Army Wife rides rail before winning move in Black-Eyed Susan
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire


The quiet trainer who has a reputation for turning ordinary horses into something special did it again Friday. And he did it thanks to a strong-willed ride along a golden rail from a special jockey.

Already a winner twice on the Pimlico card, Mike Maker and Joel Rosario put exclamation points on their day when Army Wife went from a modest allowance winner to a Grade 2 breakthrough n the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

“The rail seemed like the spot to be today,” Maker said, “and we finally got a good trip out of her.”

Maker also mentioned the “1” hole, which proved to be an advantageous post for the Declaration of War filly who was bought by Kirk and Debra Wycoff’s Three Diamond Farms for $190,000. Rosario patiently, stubbornly refused to budge from the rail for the longest time, even as pacesetter Lady Traveler would not yield.

“I had the horse there, and I was just trying to get my spot,” Rosario said.

He kept biding his time and biding his time – until he picked the perfect opportunity to change course. Turning for home, he widened Army Wife to the “2” path. That was his spot. From there it was clear sailing to the wire.

“It was a decision that I had to make, because they were coming back a little bit in front of me, and I had the horse,” said Rosario, now a two-time Black-Eyed Susan winner. “I decided I needed to go, because I had some room to go and just let her run her race.”

Rosario encouraged Army Wife all the way to the wire for a 2 3/4-length victory. Willful Woman (13-1) found traffic trouble in the far turn and settled for second, followed in third another 1 1/4 lengths back by a retreating Lady Traveler (18-1), and then it was another 10 lengths to an uninspired Forever Boss (18-1) in fourth.

Cleared barely an hour before the race by a series of out-of-competition drug tests conducted on controversial trainer Bob Baffert’s horses, Beautiful Gift stalked the early pace with jockey Johnny Velázquez before fading to a distant seventh as the 2-1 favorite.

“Obviously we are disappointed,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said in Baffert’s absence. “We thought she would run a little better than that. Johnny said that when he needed horse, he just didn’t have it.”

Second choice Adventuring (3-1) was eased and finished eighth.

Army Wife’s winning time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.63 off fractions of 23.71, 46.71, 1:10.92 and 1:36.79 on a fast track drenched only by comfortable, 73-degree sunshine.

A distant third last month after getting caught in traffic in the Gazelle Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, Army Wife never lost the confidence of Maker. After starting her career 0-for-3 on the turf, she was moved to dirt to break her maiden in spite of gate issues that also contributed to her second-place finish in her last start as a 2-year-old.

After a 3 1/2-month break, Army Wife began her 3-year-old season with a perilously narrow victory as the odds-on favorite in a $75,000 allowance race at Gulfstream Park. That led to her tough trip in the Gazelle and then to a decision to make Rosario the fifth different jockey Army Wife has had in her eight-race career.

It certainly paid off.

“She had been a hard-luck horse her whole career,” Maker told NBC. “It always seemed like something happened. She’s been a filly I’ve been excited about since she was 2. She makes a fabulous appearance; she looks like a colt. I’m just happy and looking forward to the rest of the year.”

The long odds for the also-rans made for big payoffs in the exotics. The winning $1 exacta paid $63.70, the $1 trifecta $591.30 and the $1 superfecta $4,971.40.

In betting on the Black-Eyed Susan–Preakness double, Army Wife and Midnight Bourbon are favored with a $2 bet paying $46.80. A ticket with Concert Tour is next at $59.60 followed by Medina Spirit at $64 and Crowded Trade at $90.60.

Handle from all sources set a Black-Eyed Susan day record of $27.675 million. According to the Maryland Jockey Club, the previous high was two years ago at $21.349 million.

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