10/26/2001 12:00AM

Benders double their pleasure with improbable fillies


Marylanders Howard and Sondra Bender and their trainer, Larry Murray, achieved a rare daily double on Oct. 19 at The Meadowlands. They won two $100,000 stakes races, each with a homebred 3-year-old filly getting her first added-money victory. What's more, both were longshots at odds of more than 20-1.

Leading the charge was Cruise Along ($50.80), a gray/roan daughter of Runaway Groom who came from off the pace and drove to a three-quarter length victory in the 1 3/8-mile Navajo Princess Stakes, the fifth race on the card.

Not to be outdone by her stablemate, Media Access overcame a rough trip in the 1 1/16-mile Miss Liberty Stakes about 90 minutes later, in the ninth race, and prevailed by a neck, paying $44.40. Both races were on the turf.

"It ranks right up there with the most exciting times we've ever had," said Howard Bender, who, along with his wife, made two trips to the winner's circle that evening.

With Murray as their private trainer, based at Laurel Park, the Benders campaign one of the most active stables in Maryland. They currently have 23 horses in training, almost all of them homebreds raised at Glade Valley Farms, their family-owned 900-acre Thoroughbred nursery in Frederick, Md.

The farm is undergoing a transition these days, as the Benders are in the process of buying out their partner, Dr. Robert A. Leonard, who founded Glade Valley along with Howard Bender's father, Jack I. Bender, in 1960. Long one of the major commercial establishments in Maryland, and home to the one-time powerhouse sire Rollicking, Glade Valley is now almost exclusively devoted to the Benders's own horses.

"We like to raise them, and what we really enjoy is the racing," said Howard Bender.

If asked to predict the likely stable stars for the month of October, the Benders would not have focused on the two fillies. Their big hopes rode with their 6-year-old homebred horse, La Reine's Terms, who won the Bald Eagle Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico in September, and was seeking his second stakes win in a row as the 2-1 favorite in the Maryland Million Turf. La Reine's Terms lost all chance in that Maryland Million Day race when another horse broke down on the first turn, and pushed him nearly to the middle of the course.

The victories at The Meadowlands are a sizable consolation, however, since the fillies eventually will bring additional black-type to the Benders's broodmare band, which now numbers 21.

Cruise Along, in winning the Navajo Princess, one-upped her dam Nashly (by Island Whirl), whom the Benders also bred. Nashly, at age 5, carried the Benders's colors to a second-place finish in the 1994 running of the Navajo Princess and also was third in the New Castle Handicap. She retired with earnings of $103,215. Cruise Along is Nashly's third foal and first stakes performer. Cruise Along has a yearling full brother, and weanling half-sister by You and I; Nashly is in foal for 2002 to You and I.

Media Access (by Devil's Bag) is a half-sister to another of the Benders's top performers, Maryland Moon. The Benders purchased their dam Foufa (a 1983 daughter of Storm Bird) for $90,000 at the 1989 Keeneland January sale with Maryland Moon (by Al Mamoon) in utero. Maryland Moon won three stakes and placed in nine others, including a second in the 1993 running of the Grade 1 Washington, D.C., International, earning $420,223. Foufa has also produced for the Benders stakes-placed Full Brush and Certantee. She has a 2001 colt by Grand Slam and is in foal to Jade Hunter.