Trained by Todd Pletcher, the bay daughter of Awesome Again , out of the stakes-winning More Than Ready mare Stopshoppingmaria, got the better of rivals Filly Joel and Miss Marilyn, who had kept her a maiden in her last two starts, to score a 1 1/4-length victory as the 2-1 post-time favorite.
With the win in the 1 1/8-mile test for sophomore fillies, Always Shopping picked up 10 points toward a berth in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), slated for May 3 at Churchill Downs. The Busanda was the second race in the Oaks qualifying series at the Big A, following the grade 2 Demoiselle, held Dec. 1, which was won by Positive Spirit.
Filly Joel, with Jose Lezcano in the irons, emerged from a sextet of frontrunning contenders to mark the opening quarter-mile in :23.91, as Miss Marilyn was hung wide through the opening turn.
Always Shopping broke from the inside post, saved ground along the rail from fifth position, and was content to track the leaders through a half-mile in :48.52. Filly Joel continued to dictate terms under close watch from Getting Warmer and Miss Marilyn on the main track labeled fast.
Filly Joel maintained her lead through the final turn, as Franco urged Always Shopping off the rail and began to reel in the leader with every stride. Always Shopping swooped by a determined Filly Joel and secured the win in a final time of 1:52.24.
“We were cautiously optimistic about this spot. We were always looking to stretch her out and get her to race at two turns. She hadn’t broke her maiden yet, but she had run well in her last start,” said assistant trainer Byron Hughes. “Manny did a great job saving ground and tilted her out down the stretch. She’s the grinding type and kind of grinded out the win. At this point we’ll see how she comes out of this race and go from there.”
Franco, who leads the meet with 51 wins, said the nine-furlong distance suited his filly.
“The distance helped her a lot. Last time (when she was runner-up to Miss Marilyn Dec. 14 at Aqueduct) she went a mile and the speed held up. I liked the distance today for her,” Franco said. “The trip worked out great. I just wanted to make sure she came out of there well and get my position before the turn, and that’s what she did. After that, she did it nice.”
Filly Joel held second, 5 1/2 lengths in front of Afleet Destiny, who closed belatedly to finish third.
Lezcano, who guided Filly Joel to a romping 6 1/4-length maiden win over Always Shopping Oct. 25 at Belmont Park, said his outside post was a factor in the outcome of the race.
“I had a pretty good trip. The first turn kind of hurt me a little bit. I had to use her a bit to get down towards the rail from my post,” Lezcano said. “It might have hurt us in the end, but she gave a good effort, and it was a good race. She tried hard the entire way.”