By Jessica Tugwell
John and Cheri Banner’s homebred mare My Sistersledge has won the Maryland Million Ladies Stakes the past two years, and the five-year-old daughter of Etched seems to be primed for another shot on Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, October 19.
During Maryland Pride Day on Saturday, August 17, at Laurel Park, My Sistersledge notched her first stakes win of the season with her victory in Laurel Park’s All Brandy Stakes at one and one-sixteenth miles on the turf. The Michael Trombetta trainee earned the winner’s share of a $75,000 purse and highlighted a celebratory weekend in Maryland for her Florida-based owners, whose current trio of homebred racehorses have already banked over $123,000 in purse earnings from 12 starts this year.
Joining the Game
Growing up, John spent his time going to the track with his father, eventually working his first job at a concession stand at Monmouth Park. Later in life, he and his wife Cheri would often go to the racetrack together to play the horses, which led them to form a close friendship with Thoroughbred breeders David and Louise Schwartz, who bred 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine.
In 2002, John went to the Ocala Fall Mixed Sale, where the catalog page of Blushing Bride, an unraced daughter of Miesque’s Son in foal to Trippi, caught his eye. As she went unsold ($30,000 RNA), the Banners’ discussed the mare’s prospects with David Schwartz and decided to purchase her privately. The following April, Blushing Bride foaled Trippi’s son, a bay colt named Yorick, who made his career debut on August 27, 2006 as the Banner family’s first racehorse. Nearly 10 years after foaling Yorick, Blushing Bride was sent to Bonita Farm, in Darlington, Md., to be bred to the stallion Etched, who was later sold to Korea.
“John was very interested in the Maryland program; you guys have a really nice program up there. So he came to me and he said, ‘You know what? I want to try to go to this stallion in Maryland named Etched.’ And the reason being because he was out of Unbridled Elaine,” Cheri explained. “So we did, and we’re really happy that we did. Not only do we love it up there - everybody’s so friendly and so nice, - but we got a really nice filly [My Sistersledge] using Etched and hopefully [My Brothersledge] will be showing a little more this year.”
The pairing resulted in Blushing Bride giving birth to a striking dark bay filly, and when John suggested that Cheri name her, she didn’t need any time to consider. “I always knew that if [John] ever said name a filly, I was going to name her My Sistersledge,” Cheri said, explaining that she and her younger sister Cindy have been calling each other by the nickname “Sledge” since they were in their early 20s. “My sister has gotten a big kick out of it, my whole family did, and I love the name. I think it’s a great, fun name and it’s kind of cute because people have stopped me at the track and ask me about the name and I’d tell them and they’d say the same thing, ‘my sister and I call each other Sledge,’ so it’s been kind of fun that it wasn’t just Cindy and I; other people did the same thing.”
Outside of the sentiment of her name, Cheri felt that My Sistersledge showed great promise from a young age. “It’s kind of funny because we went to [the 2015 Maryland Horse Breeders Association Yearling Show] with My Sistersledge and there was just something – she looked smart. She just looked intelligent to me. I don’t know, she knows what she’s doing and she’s a workhorse. She goes out there and tries every single time to get it done. It’s hard to say what makes an elite racehorse, but there was something that I saw in her very young that kind of kept me tuned into her. But she’s been just a blessing, a great joy. We’ve really enjoyed having her, and we feel very lucky that we have her in the barn. Her half-sister, Fleet Allaire, was the same way. She was very alpha as a yearling and a 2-year-old, and Sistersledge reminded us a lot of Fleet Allaire.”
A Career in the Making
My Sistersledge began her racing career in Florida at age 2 with trainer David Kassen, where she showed a big closing kick to finish third on debut in a 5-furlong turf sprint at Gulfstream Park. The daughter of Etched broke her maiden in her sixth career start, stalking the pace and winning under a hand drive in a $75,000 maiden claiming race, going one and one-sixteenth miles on the turf in 1:42.80.
The filly’s stakes debut resulted in a fourth-place finish in Gulfstream’s Honey Ryder Stakes on May 6, 2017, followed up with her first start in Maryland two months later in the Pearl Necklace Stakes at Laurel Park, where she finished third.
My Sistersledge’s three-year-old campaign concluded with nine starts, highlighted by her first stakes victory in the 2017 Maryland Million Ladies Stakes. At 4, she made eight more starts, adding three more allowance victories to her record and a third-place finish in the Jameela Stakes at Laurel. Coming into last year’s Maryland Million Ladies, My Sistersledge was nearly two lengths shy of being undefeated at Laurel and her credentials were enough to warrant her going off at odds of 3-5. The hard knocking filly didn’t disappoint her backers as she prevailed by a neck, despite a battle to the wire with longshot pacesetter My Vixen, who finished second.
Feeling My Sistersledge was deserving of a good break at the end of 2018, the Banners’ decided to send her to Johnny Collins’ Collins Training Stable in Ocala, Fl., where she had received early training.
Returning from her Florida freshening, My Sistersledge made her 2019 debut on May 26 at Monmouth Park in the Miss Liberty Stakes, where she made up over 13 lengths to finish sixth, only two lengths behind the winner Hogan’s Holiday. She followed that effort up with a fourth-place finish in the $150,000 Eatontown Stakes-G3, her first start in graded stakes company. Nearly two months later, My Sisterledge found her stride as the favorite in the All Brandy Stakes at Laurel, achieving her first stakes win of the season.
My Sistersledge currently holds a record of 8-2-7 out of 24 starts, standing as the Banner’s top earner with $404,182.
Uniquely enough, My Sistersledge has a four-year-old full brother named My Brothersledge, also racing for Trombetta and the Banners, who recently won a Maryland-bred allowance at Laurel on July 12 and finished third in a similar spot August 10. This year, My Sistersledge sits as the second-highest earner for her sire, with her brother sitting in fourth.
“We think that the light bulb has gone on with him [My Brothersledge],” said Cheri. “From what I’ve been told, that’s not uncommon for colts to maybe take until their four-year-old season to get the drift, and he definitely is training much better. We’re hoping to see some more good things from him this year.”
When asked whether there’s a chance we might see My Brothersledge in the Maryland Million Turf, Cheri replied, “I think there is a chance. Let’s put it this way: it has been mentioned, yes. So we’re hoping. That would be really fun to have a Brothersledge and a Sistersledge in the Maryland Million. That would be really exciting for us.”
In addition to Blushing Bride, who has a weanling filly by Mosler at Bonita Farm and is currently in foal to Karakontie, for what will likely be her last breeding, the Banners’ broodmare band consists of Fleet Allaire (by Halo’s Image) and Queen of the Nile (by Proud Accolade).
My Sistersledge in the 2015 MHBA Yearling Show.