BALTIMORE – Trainer Jason Servis had mud caked on his shoes. Specks of mud dotted the legs on his light-blue pants. Jockey Nik Juarez wore a blanket of black-eyed Susans on his left shoulder as a steamy Friday afternoon drew to a close at Pimlico Race Course.
Although both men might have felt uncomfortable, they smiled broadly. Their belief in Actress, a well-bred but winless filly through two starts, had been justified with a tenacious head victory over Lights of Medina in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Corporate Queen closed for third.
Actress, a gray or roan daughter of Tapit, had gone unraced as a 2-year-old. She endured a rough trip when she debuted at three-quarters of a mile at Gulfstream Park on March 19. She was bumped in the early going and then was forced five wide before finishing strongly to finish second by a length and a quarter.
The connections still thought enough of her to send her into a $75,000 stakes race at Gulfstream Park, a seven-furlong contest. She finished second again to well-regarded My Miss Tapit, again losing by a length and a quarter. Juarez rode both times.
Servis, typically conservative in his handling of horses, thought the third time might be the charm and that she would welcome the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Black-Eyed Susan. No wonder he was all but dancing on a track turned muddy by a sudden heavy rain that came shortly before the major race for 3-year-old fillies.
“I always liked this filly,” Servis said. “I told them she was a good filly from day one.”
He credited owners- breeders Gary and Mary West for keeping faith in his plan, even if the early results were not ideal.
“I’ve got the hand it to the Wests. They were on board the whole time and a lot of owners wouldn’t be,” Servis said. “But they’ve been great. They’re good for the business. They deserve it.”
Juarez was equally strong in his belief in Actress, despite a sealed track that was labeled sloppy.
“She is a trying horse. She loved the distance and she loved the ground,” Juarez said. “She is a fighting filly.”
Juarez, 23, gave Actress every opportunity with a savvy ride after breaking from post-position 10 in a field of 11.
“The main thing was getting over to the rail from the 10 hole, saving ground, and she made a big move coming for home,” he said.
Late runners thrived in the Black-Eyed Susan. Actress, Lights of Medina, Corporate Queen and fourth-place Torrent all closed from well off the pace.
Actress covered the mile and an eighth in 1:51.87. She paid $27.60, $10.60 and $7.80. Actress banked $150,000 of the $250,000 purse.
Completing the order of finish were Moana, front-running Tapa Tapa Tapa, Shimmering Aspen, Summer Luck, Dancing Rags, Yorkiepoo Princess and Full House.
The hard-driving victory was the kind Juarez dreamed of while growing up here.
“This is my first Grade 2 win,” he said. “Winning at my home track in Maryland, it’s a special moment.”