Posted: June 17, 2022

By Tom LaMarra

Former $10,000 claimer Fille d’Esprit and multiple graded stakes-placed Ny Traffic turned in sharp performances in their respective victories in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) competition June 17 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.

The pair of $100,000 stakes–the Susquehanna Valley (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division) and the Chocolatetown (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division)–wrapped up the second of five legs in the 2022 MATCH Series.

Fille d’Esprit, owned by CJI Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm, was claimed for $10,000 in August 2020 by trainer John Robb for her current connections. Since that time, the 6-year-old Maryland-bred mare by Great Notion has won seven times with two victories, two seconds and one third–in a Grade III–in stakes company.

With regular rider Xavier Perez aboard, Fille d’Esprit broke alertly in the six-furlong Susquehanna Valley and sat just off front-running Hey Mamaluke through quick early fractions in a six-horse field. She took over in hand on the far turn and gradually pulled away to a 2 1/4-length victory in 1:09.38 on a track rated fast.

Cinnabunny, who tracked in third for most of the way, rallied mildly for second while favored Kaylasaurus closed from fifth early to finish third. Fille d’Esprit returned $6.20 to win.

“It set up as I thought it would,” Robb said. “She stalked (Hey Mamaluke) and stayed close. When Xavier asked her, she exploded.”

“Everything played out the way John planned,” Perez said.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Robb’s wife, Gina. “We were really confident going in to the race tonight.”

John Robb said the July 16 Alma North Stakes at Laurel Park, where Fille d’Esprit is stabled, is penciled in for the mare’s next start. It is the third leg of the MATCH Series division. Fille d’Esprit, who has earned $353,726, now has 10 points after her first start in this year’s series.

Kaylasaurus, owned by Bush Racing Stable, Liberty House Racing, BlackRidge Stables and George Saufley, picked up five more points with her Susquehanna finish and currently leads the division standings with 15 points. She, too, is being pointed to the 6 1/2-furlong Alma North.

Ny Traffic got a similar trip in the six-furlong Chocolatetown. The 5-year-old Cross Traffic horse broke well from the outside post in a field of nine, quickly engaged widest of all on the far turn under Edwin Gonzalez and fought hard to put away a stubborn Beren, who had the early lead. Ny Traffic finished a half-length in front of Beren, with longshot Dontmesawithme a fast-closing third. The final time was 1:09.64 on a track rated fast.

Ny Traffic, the heavy favorite, returned $3 to win. He is currently based at Belmont Park with trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. for owners John Fanelli, Cash is King, LC Racing, Paul Braverman and Team Hanley.

Before an eighth-place finish in the 2020 Kentucky Derby (run in September that year), Ny Traffic was second in the Grade I Haskell Invitational, Grade II Louisiana Derby and Grade III Matt Win Stakes. In 2022, he now has three victories in sprint stakes.

“The finish tonight was closer than we thought it would be, but six furlongs is not his premium distance,” Fanelli said. “He’s probably more suited to 6 1/2 or seven furlongs, but he can go any distance between six furlongs and 1 1/8 miles. I though he had put away Beren at the top of the stretch, but he came back on him. (Ny Traffic) fought hard to win it.”

Ny Traffic’s earnings now stand at $873,340 in 19 starts. He picked up 10 points for the Chocolatetown score is now tied with Disco Pharoah at the top of the division standings.

The MATCH Series will resume at Laurel Saturday, July 16 with stakes for all four divisions.

The MATCH Series originally debuted in 1997 and ran for five years. It returned with great success in 2018 and was held in 2019 and 2021. The innovative regional racing series–the only one of its kind in horse racing–combines rich stakes and bonuses for participating owners and trainers who compete over a five- to seven-month span. Horses competing in MATCH earn points based on participation and order of finish in each series race, and the leading point-earners in each of the series divisions, as well as the owner and trainer of the overall points leader, win lucrative bonuses.