09/01/2006 12:00AM

Promenade Girl another Bender success

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Sondra and Howard Bender's homebred 4-year-old Promenade Girl delivered one of the most impressive performances by a Maryland-bred this season with her close victory over Round Pond in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Stakes last Sunday at Monmouth.

Round Pond, a Grade 1 winner who won her two earlier starts this season, looked nearly unbeatable in the Molly Pitcher, and she did indeed press Promenade Girl for all she was worth.

Promenade Girl, under a brilliant ride by Jeremy Rose, led the way through slow early fractions of 24.53 seconds, 47.95, and 1:11.68 in the 1 1/16-mile race. With Round Pond and rider Joe Bravo looming on the outside approaching the quarter pole, Rose applied race-riding tactics and allowed Promenade Girl to drift out slightly, carrying Round Pond with her. Round Pond, by then in full throttle, dueled into the stretch and overtook Promenade Girl just past the sixteenth pole. Digging deep, Promenade Girl - her reserves still intact after setting the relatively easy early pace - reclaimed her advantage and scored by a head in a final time of 1:42.98 over a sloppy track.

It was the richest victory for the Benders and their private trainer, Larry Murray, who since 1989 have campaigned 24 stakes winners, almost all of them homebreds foaled at the Benders' Glade Valley Farms in Frederick, Md. The Molly Pitcher, having its 61st running this year, carried a $300,000 purse for Breeders' Cup-eligible runners. As a Breeders' Cup nominee, Promenade Girl earned $180,000.

In 14 career starts, Promenade Girl has earned $460,540 - an amount just over the price ($460,000) that the Benders paid for her dam, the Pleasant Colony mare Promenade Colony, in foal to Woodman, at the 1998 Keeneland November sale.

Promenade Colony was by far the most expensive broodmare the Benders have purchased in their more than 20 years of owning horses. And her emergence as a graded stakes producer is yet another feather in the cap for Murray, who not only trains the Benders' stable of about 20 runners based at Laurel Park, but also manages their farm operation and makes decisions about broodmares and matings.

Murray was concerned, for a while, that he may have prompted the Benders to overspend for Promenade Colony, although her credentials were superb.

"She had a beautiful catalog page, and she's a big, rangy mare who is relatively correct," said Murray. "We went looking for a high-class mare, and she had all the attributes."

Promenade Colony, now 14, is a full sister to multiple graded winner and stakes producer Dance Colony, and a half-sister to Grade 1 winners Another Review and No Review, from the family of champion and major sire Lyphard. But the first three foals she produced for the Benders (fillies by Woodman, Wild Again, and Capote, who ultimately were claimed from or sold by the Bender stable) did little more than win their maidens. Her two earlier foals did even less.

Murray selected the late Carson City (a Grade 2-winning sprinter by Mr. Prospector) for breeding with Promenade Colony in 2001, based on that sire's high rate of success with juveniles, as well as his speed influence. "Pleasant Colony could go all day, and we were hoping for a balance," said Murray.

Promenade Girl, the result of that mating, won her only start at 2 and has won stakes at 3 and 4. Last season, she captured the Twixt Stakes and Geisha Handicap for Maryland-breds, finished second, against males, in the Northern Dancer Stakes, and was third in the Marshua Stakes. The Molly Pitcher was her third stakes win in six starts in 2006, adding to victories in Laurel's Nellie Morse in January and the Golden Sylvia Handicap on June 20 at Mountaineer Park, her last start before the Molly Pitcher.

Murray is mulling over several possibilities for Promenade Girl's next start, including the Grade 1 Beldame on Oct. 7 at Belmont.

Promenade Colony is still in production at Glade Valley, but it will be some time before Murray trains a younger sibling to Promenade Girl. Promenade Colony did not produce a foal the year after Promenade Girl was born, and the Benders sold her current 2-year-old filly, Dattts Awesome (by Awesome Again), for $250,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale. Promenade Colony has a yearling colt by Grand Slam who is expected to race for the Benders, and a 2006 filly by Tale of the Cat. For 2007, she is in foal to Smart Strike.