OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Two-time stakes winner Laobanonaprayer has already proved she can win at a one-turn mile and will look to replicate that effort against the most talented field she’s faced in her young career in Saturday’s $250,000 Busher Invitational for sophomore fillies at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The 42nd running of the Busher, which offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on April 30 at Churchill Downs, is one of four stakes on a packed day at the Big A. The card is highlighted by the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham in a Kentucky Derby prep race and also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for 4-years-olds and up and the $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational for fillies and mares 4-and-up.
Laobanonaprayer, owned and trained by Daniel Velazquez, has never finished off the board in her first five starts, compiling a 2-2-1 ledger with a field-high $252,400 in earnings. After a third-place debut effort in September at Delaware Park followed by a runner-up effort over the same track in October, the Laoban filly broke her maiden in impressive fashion with a 5 1/2-length score in the Maid of the Mist going one mile over Belmont Park’s Big Sandy on October 24 in defeating fellow New York-breds.
She concluded her juvenile campaign with an eight-length win in the New York Stallion Stakes Series Fifth Avenue on December 6 before running second in the 6 ½-furlong Franklin Square in her 2021 debut finishing 1 ½ lengths behind Secret Love on January 16 at the Big A.
Velazquez noted that inclement weather at his Parx Racing training base had interrupted Laobanonaprayer’s training schedule leading up to and following the Franklin Square.
The talented filly has recently posted a pair of sharp works, including a five-furlong effort in 1:01.61 on Saturday over the Parx main track in her final breeze before shipping to New York.
“She’s been doing good and we’ve gotten the works that we’ve needed,” Velazquez said. “We’re excited to see open company and the level change. I think this race sets up perfect. I know that I hit every work that I needed to hit. Now, it’s just a matter of her having the talent and ability and a getting a good trip to get the win.”
Velazquez said he’s been impressed with her improvement overall since starting her career in September.
“She’s calmed down a lot,” Velazquez said. “She was a bit of a hyper filly, and she still is, but that edge is there for racing, she’s just getting a little more mature. She’s always been a big filly and she’s gotten a little wider and a little stronger.”
Meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche will be the irons from post 2.
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will seek his first career win in the Busher, sending out a pair of formidable contenders in Klaravich Stables’ Search Results and Louis Lazzinnaro’s The Grass Is Blue.
Search Results, unraced as a juvenile, won her first race with an impressive four-length score on January 3 at Gulfstream Park. The Flatter filly was a $310,000 purchase at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and will be well-rested entering her second career start after training at Payson Park in Indiantown, Florida. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will pick up the mount from post 3.
“We gave her some time since that race to recover and get in a good rhythm with her works,” Brown said. “She seems ready to run again now.”
The Grass Is Blue added blinkers last out for a winning effort at Aqueduct, besting Coffee Bar by one length to win the 1 1/8-mile Busanda on January 24. That victory netted the Broken Vow filly 10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points, placing her 14th on the current leaderboard, and marked her third win overall in five starts.
After running sixth in the Songbird in November at Keeneland – the only time in five starts she failed to place – The Grass Is Blue ran third in the Anne Arundel County on December 26 at Laurel before earning a return trip to the winner’s circle in her first 2021 start next out.
“She’s really come along nicely in her development,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to cut her back in distance, but she’s been thriving in New York this winter in the environment and I didn’t want to take that away from her. She was sharper with the blinkers on and pulling on Manny a bit, so maybe a cutback won’t hurt her.”
The Grass Is Blue will see Manny Franco ride from post 4.
Team D’s Miss Brazil followed a maiden-breaking win at second asking on November 29 at the Big A with a 6 1/4-length gate-to-wire score in the Ruthless going seven furlongs on February 8 over the same track in making her first start as a 3-year-old.
A daughter of Palace Malice, Miss Brazil has given her connections optimism that the one-turn mile should not be an issue, with trainer Tony Dutrow saying a strong performance could open up the potential to run even longer as the year progresses.
“She leads us to believe that seven furlongs to a mile is within her ability, but we’ll find out for sure,” Dutrow said. “She’ll probably meet the best horses she’s ever faced before, and with an added distance, so we know we have to past this test. But I’m happy with how the progression has gone so far.”
Eric Cancel, aboard for the Ruthless win, will have the return call from the inside post.
Gary Barber’s Make Mischief will have a quick turnaround after winning the Maddie May by a neck on February 20 at Aqueduct. Contested at the Busher’s distance, the Maddie May saw Make Mischief shoot up the rail to overtake Brattle House in the final furlong. She will return just two weeks later looking to build on a stellar 3-3-0 record through seven starts.
“She came out of that race good, so we’re running,” trainer Chris Englehart said. “She’s a big, strong filly. Last race, coming up the fence the way she did, she showed a lot of courage.”
Make Mischief was trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse for her 2-year-old campaign that saw consecutive runner-up efforts in the Grade 3 Schuylerville, Grade 2 Adirondack and the Seeking the Ante during the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.
Barber sent Make Mischief to the New York-based Englehart for the start of her 3-year-old year to get ready to compete for the winter meet with great success, as Make Mischief is 2-for-2 at the track, starting with a 3 ½-length win against optional claimers going seven furlongs on January 31, resulting in a personal-best 74 Beyer Speed Figure.
“She came to us in great shape from Mark Casse and she’s pretty much the same horse,” Englehart said.
Dylan Davis will have the call from post 6.
Late Night Stable’s Mo Desserts will step up to stakes company for the first time, looking to build on a maiden-breaking 15 1/2-length score against a five-horse field at the Busher distance on February 8 for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
The Nyquist filly started her career with big expectations, selling for $300,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Sale. Unraced as a juvenile, she ran third on debut in a six-furlong sprint on January 10 at Aqueduct before an emphatic win next out when Pablo Morales rode for the first time. Morales will have the return engagement from post 5.
The Busher is slated as Race 6 on Aqueduct’s 10-race program with a first post time of 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
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Photo: Laobanonaprayer winning the NYSS at Aqueduct December 6, 2020. (NYRA/Coglianese)