STAUNTON, Del.--If 1992 was the year of the Bassfords, then 1993 is the year of the Benders.
So far, Howard and Sondra Bender of Bethesda have quite a way to go to match the 14 stakes that Maryland owners Nick and Elaine Bassford won last year with Brilliant Brass, Ameri Valay, Wait For The Lady and Festive Feathers.
But when their 4-year-old filly, Green Darlin, won the Grade II Delaware Handicap yesterday at Delaware Park, leaving even-money favorite Quilma about 4 1/2 lengths behind in sixth place, it was the fifth 1993 stakes won by a Bender-bred and the fourth stakes won in the black and gold Bender colors.
Under a confident ride by Mike Luzzi, Green Darlin came from last place in the 11-horse field. "On her own, she gradually picked off horses," Luzzi said.
Green Darlin caught pacesetter Hope For A Breeze about a sixteenth of a mile from the finish and then held off rallies from long shots Girl On A Mission and Starry Val and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Hope For A Breeze was fourth. The three runners-up had shipped in from Canada.
Quilma, trained by Shug McGaughey and ridden by Jose Santos, never picked up the bit.
For Luzzi, Maryland's leading stakes jockey, it was like coming home.
The 23-year-old rider was born and raised in Wilmington and started his racing career working on the backstretch of Delaware Park.
His grandfather, Buddy Raines, won two runnings of the Delaware Handicap for the Brandywine Stable --in 1944 with Everget and 1966 with Open Fire.
Luzzi had ridden Green Darlin only once before. That was June 9 at Monmouth Park when she was beaten in a mile allowance race.
"I let her drop too far off the pace. But I was a little more familiar with her yesterday," Luzzi said.
In Green Darlin's last start, in the Davona Dale Handicap at Laurel Race Course, Luzzi was recuperating from a bruised kidney and the filly was ridden by Larry Reynolds. Blocked at the top of the stretch, she finished second.
Both at the Laurel simulcast outlet and at Delaware Park yesterday, she went off as the 4-1 second choice behind Quilma.
Green Darlin had previously won the Geisha Handicap at Pimlico Race Course this spring. Other 1993 stakes winners campaigned by the Benders are Maryland Moon (Chieftain Handicap at Laurel) and Secret Odds (Sewickley Stakes at Belmont Park). In addition, the Benders bred Rhapsodic, recent winner of the Grade II Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park. They sold the Dixieland Band filly as a yearling last September in Kentucky for $90,000.
The Benders almost pulled off a stakes double yesterday. Maryland Moon, ridden by Larry Reynolds, finished second to Explosive Jeff in the $65,000-added Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National.
This weekend, the Benders send out Secret Odds in a field of tough sprinters in the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.
The couple owns Glade Valley Farm near Frederick in partnership with Robert Leonard, and has 20 horses in training at Laurel with Larry Murray.
Murray has yet to run a 2-year-old this year for the Benders, but said he's got some runners, including a sister to graded-winner Runaway Stream, a half-sister to Maryland Moon by Private Terms and a juvenile son of multiple stakes winner Clever Power.
Mooney's last day
John E. Mooney, who takes over as senior vice president and general manager of Laurel/Pimlico on Aug.1, wrapped up his last day on the job at Delaware Park.
He has been the track's general manager since it reopened in 1984.
Mooney said yesterday that he felt he had accomplished as much as he could at Delaware Park and is looking forward to the challenge of coming to Maryland.
"This has been a rewarding day," he said. "It's one of the largest fields we've ever had for the Delaware Handicap."
Sykesville jockey Rick Wilson, who has been riding at Monmouth Park this summer, is recuperating from a torn rotator cuff and is expected to be sidelined for several months. Wilson hurt his shoulder in a training mishap at Monmouth on July 8.