02/03/2006 12:00AM

Promenade Girl puts Benders back in the fray

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Sondra and Howard Bender, Maryland's leading breeders in 2001, '02, and '03, had an off season in 2005, with their stable of 20 homebreds landing "only" three stakes wins. But 2006 could be another banner year for the Benders, who so far this year have started eight horses and logged four wins, including a remarkable stakes-winning performance by the 4-year-old filly Promenade Girl.

Asked where Promenade Girl, a daughter of Carson City, ranks among the nearly 20 stakes winners he has trained for the Benders, Larry Murray did not hesitate to reply. "She's the best filly I've ever had," he said.

"She's versatile, and she does things so easily. Jockeys come back and tell me they didn't feel like they were going anywhere, and she was passing everybody."

Promenade Girl has won 5 of her last 6 starts, including three stakes. Her single loss came when she was put in against males in Laurel Park's Northern Dancer Stakes for Maryland-breds, when she finished a game second to Gold Casing as the odds-on favorite.

After two victories in Maryland-bred distaff competition at Laurel - the one-mile Twixt Stakes on Sept. 7, and the 1 1/8-mile Geisha Handicap on Dec. 10, won by a combined margin of 10 lengths - Promenade Girl got her first unrestricted added-money score in Laurel's Nellie Morse Stakes on Jan. 28.

Heavily backed at odds of 2-5, and carrying co-highweight of 124 pounds, Promenade Girl surmounted more than the usual obstacles in the Nellie Morse. While the track appeared biased toward front-runners - they accounted for each of the eight other victories on the card - Promenade Girl broke awkwardly and was forced to make up ground throughout the early stages of the one-mile race. She dueled with pacesetter Princess Pelona in the upper stretch, then took command, pulling clear to a 1 3/4-length triumph.

In nine lifetime starts, Promenade Girl has yet to finished off the board. Her earnings total $219,490.

Laurel's Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap would have been Murray's next goal with Promenade Girl. But that race, originally scheduled Feb. 18, has been postponed until an as yet-to-be-determined date because uncertainties surrounding the equine herpesvirus outbreak at Maryland tracks.

"It's really up in the air as to where we're going next," said Murray. "But she came out of the Nellie Morse great. The next morning she wore out two hotwalkers."

The Benders, who maintain a band of approximately 20 broodmares at their Glade Valley Farms in Frederick, Md., bought Promenade Girl's dam Promenade Colony (by Pleasant Colony) for $460,000, in foal to Woodman, at the 1998 Keeneland November sale.

Promenade Colony comes from a distinguished family of runners developed by the late Virginia breeder Thomas M. Evans. Evans bred and raced champion Pleasant Colony, and for many years maintained a high-class Thoroughbred operation at his Buckland Farm. His son, Edward P. Evans, proprietor of Spring Hill Farm in Casanova, Va., was runner-up for the Eclipse Award as the nation's leading breeder of 2005, most notably as the breeder reigning Horse of the Year Saint Liam.

Promenade Colony scored only one victory on the race track and retired with earnings of $20,910. But she has held promise all along, as a full sister to Grade 2 winner Dance Colony ($504,825), and half-sister to Grade 1 winners Another Review ($752,370) and No Review ($634,545).

Promenade Girl is the sixth foal, and first stakes performer for the 14-year-old Promenade Colony. The mare has a 2-year-old filly by Awesome Again and a yearling colt by Grand Slam. She is due to foal in March to Tale of the Cat.