Jacks Or Better Farm's multiple graded-stakes winning homebred Awesome Banner, winless in 12 starts competing against some of the country's top sprinters, returned to the winner's circle with a hard-fought half-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 Fire Plug at Laurel Park.
The 22nd running of the Fire Plug for 4-year-olds and up and the 32nd renewal of the $100,000 What a Summer for fillies and mares 4 and older, both at six furlongs, served to highlight the eight-race program.
It was the seventh win from 23 career starts and sixth stakes triumph for 5-year-old Awesome Banner ($11.20), whose last victory came in the Florida Sire Foolish Pleasure Stakes Oct. 1, 2016 at Gulfstream Park. Each of his previous six wins were at the South Florida track, including the 2016 Swale (G2) and Hutcheson (G3).
“It's very deserved. He's been running against some of the best in the country. We were just looking for a good trip today and it worked out,” winning trainer Ken Decker said. “This horse has the foundation, and we're just glad he finally got the opportunity to get back to the winner's circle.”
Favorite Tale, favored at even money off a front-running victory in the Dave's Friend 12 days earlier at Laurel, broke running from his rail post and went the first quarter-mile in a swift 22.40 seconds. Jockey J.D. Acosta hustled Awesome Banner from the far outside to stalk the pacesetter and found himself in front through a half in 45.10.
After putting away Favorite Tale, Acosta set Awesome Banner down for a drive to the wire and he powered down the center of the track through five furlongs in 56.78 seconds, finishing up in 1:08.94 over a fast main track to hold off late-running It's the Journey.
They were followed across the line by Something Awesome, Favorite Tale, Rockinn On Bye, Two Charley's and Someday Jones.
“The instructions were to break from the gate and try to keep him close,” Acosta said. “I was really scared about Favorite Tale because he's tough. I didn't want to let him go too easy, and I felt like he was in the first quarter and when [jockey Jevian] Toledo started asking him I was like, ‘I'm in trouble.' But when I asked my horse he responded so well.”
Awesome Banner, who placed in five graded stakes going 0-for-10 last year including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), improved his career bankroll to $863,390.
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