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Flying Connection returns to winning form at Albuquerque Downs

Filly dominates as overwhelming favorite in Charles Taylor Derby
Flying Connection, ridden by Felipe Valdez, pulls clear in deep stretch and wins the $75,000 Charles Taylor Derby Saturday at Albuquerque Downs. (Coady Photography)

ALBUQUERQUE – Picking up her first victory since capturing the Sunland Park Oaks last March, Flying Connection snapped a three-race losing streak in emphatic fashion Saturday night at Albuquerque Downs, drawing off in deep stretch under jockey Felipe Valdez to win the $75,000 Charles Taylor Derby.

Trained by Todd Fincher for co-owners Brad King, Jim Cone, Robert Lewis, Suzanne Kirby and Randy Andrews, Flying Connection toyed with her six rivals in the 1 1/16 mile affair, stalking a slow pace while sitting third down the backstretch.

As the field worked its way around the far turn, Valdez turned up the pressure on pacesetter Charlee Mae and jockey Christian Ramos, moving up to that rival’s outside and grabbing the lead at the head of the lane.

The 3-year-old daughter of Nyquist gradually inched clear inside the final furlong, crossing the finish line 3 1/2 lengths the best, stopping the clock in 1 minute, 43.78 seconds.

Sent off as the overwhelming 1-to-9 post time favorite, Flying Connection returned $2.20 to her winning backers. The $2 exacta with Charlee Mae paid back $11.40. Charlee Mae was five lengths clear of third-place finisher Bye Bye Rae and jockey Daniel Vergara while My Man Biggie and Karlo Lopez rounded out the top four.

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Flying Connection found her way back to the winners circle after a tough campaign over the spring and summer months. She was a well-beaten sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks last May at Churchill Downs. After that effort, she raced in a pair of stakes races in Southern California, where she finished second in her most recent start, the Grade 3 Torrey Pines Stakes on Sept. 2 at Del Mar.

Before the Kentucky Oaks, Flying Connection was a two-time stakes winner at Sunland Park. In addition to the Sunland Park Oaks, she was a romping winner in the $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes.

Saturday’s win improved Flying Connection’s lifetime record to five wins from 11 starts with career earnings now topping $382,000.

Mine That Star impressive in Budweiser Special

Judge Lanier Racing’s Mine That Star rallied to earn a sharp score in Sunday’s $70,000 Budweiser Special Stakes at Albuquerque Downs.

Ridden by Luis Valenzuela for trainer Nancy Summers, Mine That Star raced in perfect stalking position down the backstretch in the 7-furlong event, chasing a pair of long-shot leaders in Leave Them Behind, who had a narrow lead over Hooray Austin through an opening half-mile of 44.82 seconds.

Valenzuela put aim on those leaders midway around the far turn and put a head in front passing the sixteenth pole, then held off a mild rally from Truth Seeker and jockey Aldo Arboleda before crossing the wire three-quarters ahead of his competition in a final time of 1 minute, 21.57 seconds.

Mine That Star, a Kentucky-bred, 6-year-old son of Pioneerof The Nile, earned his second win of the year in the Budweiser Special. He romped home as the betting favorite in the Sunland Park Handicap last April. Sunday’s win is the ninth victory from 22 career starts for Mine That Star, who now has earnings well over $476,000.

Sent off as the 5-to-2 post time favorite, Mine That Star returned $7 to his winning backers. Hooray Austin and jockey Irwin Rosendo held on for the second place spot, with the $2 exacta paying $92.60. Truth Seeker flattened out late and finished third with Tulane Tryst rounding out the top four finishers.

Live racing resumes at Albuquerque Downs on Wednesday. This weekend’s racing action will be highlighted by Saturday’s $100,000 Casino at the Downs Thoroughbred Derby with a field of 10 New Mexico-breds set to race one mile. Fincher is scheduled to have as many as three starters in the Derby, including Still In The Trap and Thruthestorm.

Sunday’s featured attraction will be the $100,000 First Moonflash Maturity, for older New Mexico-bred quarter horses racing 440 yards.

River Flash, a 10-time winner and unbeaten in five starts at Albuquerque Downs in his career, will likely be one of the main stars in the First Moonflash Maturity, which features a field of nine runners.

Locally, fans can watch and wager on racing at SunRay Park and Casino. For more information on the racing at Albuquerque Downs, check out the track’s official page at equibase.com.