Connections Going One Step At A Time
As the racing manager for Greg and Caroline Bentley’s Runnymede Racing, Joe Cassidy is always on the lookout for a good horse. After watching a Maryland-bred son of Stay Thirsty break his maiden in handy fashion last summer at Laurel Park, he thought he had found one, and things have turned out well so far.
Since finishing off the board in his first two starts for Runnymede, one of them on turf, Alwaysmining has reeled off five consecutive victories, the last four in stakes, heading into Saturday’s Xpressbet Federico Tesio at Laurel Park.
“We were really looking to just get regional horses, plus the extra bonus money you get when you have a state-bred horse. It’s always good for the bottom line. It was just a business decision from the strictest point,” Cassidy said. “Honestly, he was a Maryland-bred, and we were looking for some young horses that had dirt experience that could run through the winter locally.
“The Bentleys were not running a lot of dirt horses and they wanted to change their profile, and he hit it between the eyes,” Cassidy added. “Being a Maryland-bred, we thought being a nice horse he can run in some nice Maryland-bred races and maybe a Maryland-bred stake. It would be icing on the cake.”
Still relatively new to the ownership game, much of the Bentleys’ success thus far had come with turf horses. Postulation won the American St. Leger in 2017 at Arlington Park where, three years earlier, Hardest Core upset the Arlington Million at odds of 11-1. Hardest Core, who resided at Runnymede Farm near Unionville, Pa., ran in the name of Andrew P. Bentley Stables, the Bentleys’ son.
“They’re ecstatic. You couldn’t have scripted it for us better. We thought we bought a nice horse, and he turned out to be even better than expectations. They’re just loving it,” Cassidy said. “This is new for them, to have a top 3-year-old and they love it. They love the game, they love going to Laurel, they love the whole experience.
“This has been great for us,” he added. “We’ve got some broodmares and we’ve been trying to get some dirt pedigrees so we have a little more diversification. This has just solidified that the direction they want to go is the right direction.”
Since last fall, Alwaysmining has done everything right. All five of his victories have come in front-running fashion under Daniel Centeno, who has flown from his winter base in Tampa to ride. Altogether, they have won by 25 combined lengths, starting with a 10-length romp through the slop in October.
From there, Alwaysmining won the Maryland Juvenile Futurity and Heft Stakes, both at seven furlongs, to cap his 2-year-old season. At that time, the connections got together to plot out a course of action for the gelding, whose sire ran in two legs of the 2011 Triple Crown, finishing second in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes before winning the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy and 1 1/4-mile Travers.
Ultimately, the decision was made to take a conservative approach. Alwaysmining opened his sophomore campaign with a 4 1/4-length triumph in the one-mile Miracle Wood on Feb. 16, then followed up by acing his first two-turn test with a 6 3/4-length score in the Private Terms, contested at about 1 1/16 mile, on March 16.
Alwaysmining was nominated to Kentucky Derby points races in California, Kentucky and New York the first weekend of April, but the connections thought better of entering and stayed put.
“When Kelly Rubley, the Bentleys and myself sat down after the Heft Stakes, we mapped these three races out for him. It was from a timing figure, a distance figure, and everything worked out perfectly,” Cassidy said. “He’s stabled at Fair Hill, so he didn’t have to do a lot of shipping.
“After the Private Terms, there was a little more pressure to go on the road, but we said, 'This is what we mapped out, it’s been working so far, why deviate from that?’ He’s a gelding, so his longevity is most important.
"The best interests of him is most important," Cassidy said. "We weren’t sure about going the two turns and then after the last race, he did a great job, so let’s just stick to the plan, and the Bentleys have been great with it.”
Among the horses Alwaysmining has beaten during his streak are Win Win Win, track-record winner of the Pasco Stakes this winter in Tampa and runner-up in the Blue Grass who is bound for the Kentucky Derby; and grade III-placed Tremont Stakes winner Our Braintrust, also on the Derby trail prior to his off-the-board finish in the Rebel last month.
“These are nice horses that he’s running against and we were like, ‘What a nice horse.’ After the second time, your heart starts beating a little faster,” Cassidy said. “Going into the Miracle Wood he had a little break and we’ll see how he does. Then he goes two turns in the Private Terms and does what he does. It’s pretty thrilling to have a horse that’s doing this, the way he does it.
"You have to give Kelly a tremendous amount of credit, and her team,” he added. “Danny Centeno has ridden him perfectly. We’re lucky that we have the people we have. They’ve done a fabulous job for us and we’re just enjoying the ride. If (the Preakness) were to happen, you’d have to peel us off the ceiling.”
For the third straight race, Alwaysmining figures to be an overwhelming favorite. He's set to break from post 2 in a field of six at topweight of 122 pounds, four more than each of his rivals. Since last racing, he's worked three times over Fair Hill’s all-weather surface, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 on April 6.
“Kelly’s very happy with the horse,” Cassidy said. “The great thing about this horse is, after it’s over he switches right back off. He’s just a sweet horse to be around. He’s a lovely horse, so the Bentleys quite enjoy being able to go to the barn and pet him and give him cookies and that kind of thing. All the way around, it’s been a great experience for them. They couldn’t be happier.”
Also entered in the Tesio are multiple stakes-placed Tybalt, third behind Alwaysmining in the Miracle Wood and Private Terms; Dixie Drawl, fourth in the Private Terms in his stakes debut; Majid, a winner of his last two races including a one-mile optional claiming allowance March 24 at Laurel; Bozzini, second by a nose to Nyquist’s half-brother Still Dreaming April 13 at Laurel; and Maryland-bred Trifor Gold.
“My gosh, I wish it was tomorrow,” Cassidy said. “This is another question for him. He has to get the mile and an eighth. We don’t want to put too much in front of him. He has to get the distance. It’s always a question for these young horses. We know he’ll show up, and hopefully we’re not asking him to do more than he’s up for.”
The 38th running of the Tesio is one of seven stakes worth $750,000 in purses on an 11-race Spring Stakes Spectacular program. For the fourth straight year, the Tesio serves as a ‘Win and In’ event for Triple Crown-nominated horses to the 144th Preakness Stakes.
Also on Saturday’s card are the $125,000 Weber City Miss for 3-year-old fillies, a ‘Win and In’ race for the 95th Black-Eyed Susan May 18 at Pimlico; $100,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. and Primonetta for sprinters three and up on the main track; $100,000 Henry S. Clark presented by Fidelity First and James Blackwell Real Estate and Dahlia at one mile on Laurel’s world-class turf course; and inaugural $100,000 King T. Leatherbury Stakes presented by B&B Commercial Interiors going 5 ½ furlongs on the grass.
First race post time is 1:10 p.m.