Saturday’s Winter Carnival at Laurel Park in Maryland featured five stakes races led by the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie and General George. Oh, and chainsaw ice sculptures, an ice wall full of prizes people could pay money to try to chip out, a rare Laurel appearance of ace photographer Barbara Livingston and a fairly secret visit from baseball Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
Yeah, all of that.
TIHR’s Joe Clancy was on hand to cover the day. See Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred’s April edition for a longer feature, but highlights included:
Best Performance: Firenze Fire. As expected of a Grade 1 winner and three-time Breeders’ Cup starter, the 5-year-old dismantled six others in the $250,000 General George. Irad Ortiz Jr. barely moved on the son of Poseidon’s Warrior, who races for Mr. Amore Stable and trainer Jason Servis. Firenze Fire won by 4 lengths at odds of 1-2.
Best Performance in Defeat: Mine Not Mine. You want a cool 3-year-old to watch? Put this son of Golden Lad on your list. Trained by Brittany Russell for LC Racing, DJ Stable and Cash Is King, Mine Not Mine rallied from 16 1/2 lengths behind to fall three-quarters of a length short of Lebda in the Miracle Wood. Mine Not Mine was 8 lengths behind in mid-stretch, and nearly got there in just his third start. The winner was impressive, but two turns, added distance and more maturity will do wonders for Mine Not Mine. The current connections paid $210,000 for the dark bay colt at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s December sale, as part of the Joe Besecker dispersal.
Bargain Hunters: Speaking of sales, Lebda brought $1,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s fall sale in 2018. The son of Raison D’Etat went for $100,000 a bit more than a year later and has now earned $154,525.
Gutsiest Performance: Alwaysmining, without a doubt. Hooked, harassed and hounded by Monongahela throughout, the 4-year-old dug in late to win the John B. Campbell by a neck for trainer Kelly Rubley and Runnymoore Racing. Once a Rubley trainee, Monongahela got in front for a few strides in the stretch, but couldn’t hold off another inside rally by the winner. Rubley said it might have been her horse’s best race. Regardless, the Maryland-bred is 2-for-2 this year and looking at what could be a big year.
History Lesson: The Campbell, run in memory of the noted racing secretary and handicapper who died in 1954, used to be a sought-after winter/spring prize for older horses. Past winners include Kelso, Mongo, In Reality, Best Turn, Jolly Johu, Relaxing (in 1981, the year she was named champion older female), Broad Brush, Little Bold John. Relaxing later gained fame as the dam of champion Easy Goer and Grade 1 winners Easy Now and Cadillacing. The race was first run at Bowie but has also called Laurel and Pimlico home. Dickie Small won the Campbell four times in four decades – 1976 (Festive Mood), 1987 (Broad Brush), 1998 (Hot Brush) and 2009 (Richard’s Kid). The Campbell was a graded stakes from 1973-2000.
Consistency Matters: Majestic Reason came into the Fritchie with five wins, four seconds and two thirds in a dozen lifetime starts including a mark of 9-4-4-1 at Laurel. She’d never won at 7 furlongs, and finished behind Fritchie rivals Anna’s Bandit (twice) and Saguaro Row in 2019, however. Sent off at more than 10-1, she clobbered five foes in the Fritchie for Hillwood Stable and Richard Golden and trainer Graham Motion. The 5-year-old mare, bred in Maryland by her owners, pushed her career earnings to $462,998 and became a graded stakes winner to enhance her future value as a broodmare.
Locals Only, Almost: The Winter Carnival typically attracts out-of-towners to Laurel, but the visitors struggled Saturday as Maryland-based horses won four of the five stakes. Only Firenze Fire came through for the shippers.
Milestone Monday: Trainer Jerry Robb collected his the 2,000th win of his career in Laurel’s finale as Stroll Smokin won the $54,474 allowance. The favorite went to the front early and stayed there to win by a length in a lively 1:09.65 for 6 furlongs. Robb trained his first winner in 1975, after starting out as an exercise rider in Maryland for James McGill and Dickie Coyte at Upper Marlboro and later working for John and Butch Lenzini. Robb trained Maryland-bred star Little Bold John, who won 38 races and just shy of $2 million, plus Pulverizing, Lightning Paces and current stable star Anna’s Bandit. Robb topped 100 wins in a season just once in his career, but last year topped 50 for the first time since 2009.
Elsewhere and around the world, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks trails continued to heat up, word came of the retirement of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner and a one-eye filly took another step forward. Check out the second half of The Monday Special, post Valentine’s Day edition, courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog.
Filly on the Rise: As one-eyed legend Patch settles into his new home at Old Friends, his fans have another one-eyed wonder to latch onto in the form of Saturday’s Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes winner Hard Not To Love.
The 4-year-old filly already has a built-in fan club behind her with the Zenyatta crew of Mike Smith and John Shirreffs back together to race the Hard Spun filly. Comparisons to the 2010 Horse of the Year are far from being made at this point in Hard Not to Love’s career, but she does boast a Grade 1 victory in December’s La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita.
The Shirreffs/Smith team has enjoyed much more success than just with Zenyatta over the years with Smith riding Shirreffs’ Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, among others.
“I love Mike, we go back a long way and we think a lot alike,” Shirreffs said. “He’s such a horseman. For him, it’s all about the horse. That’s above winning or losing, it’s always about the horse.”
Smith first rode Hard Not to Love in an October allowance and hasn’t had to travel far to ride her in any of her starts. She’s made all six of her starts at Santa Anita with five wins to her name. Smith said that has allowed the fans to get to know her, which has played a part in keeping the anxious filly calm. Shirreffs also credits the stewards allowing her to break from the post parade with groom Martin Lopez leading her well into the warm-up.
“She gets anxious and the fans are starting to know her,” Smith said. “They show her a lot of respect and they get quiet for her. She just gets anxiety because she can’t see everything, but she is such a sweetheart. The best part of it all is once we get her in the gate and get her running.”
Hard Not to Love was bred to find the success she has on the track as a half-sister to Canada’s Horse of the Year Wonder Gadot and Solemn Tribute. While her dam, Loving Vindication, never found stakes success, she is out of Grade 3 winner Chimichurri, who is the granddam of five stakes winners, including three Grade 1 winners.
Maiden Winner of the Week: Remanded showed few signs of inexperience – aside from her start – in her debut Sunday at Gulfstream Park. The Elusive Quality 3-year-old filly broke a step slow and had only one horse beat in the early stages of the 6-furlong race. Then she made one of the most impressive moves of the day – if not the weekend – a few furlongs in when she started picking up speed. She quickly went from a few lengths behind the bulk of the field to just behind the leader with Tyler Gaffalione sitting calmly. She went wide into the stretch with Gaffalione giving her a few reminders and didn’t win by a fancy margin – only 1 1/2 lengths at the line – but gave every sign she has more than enough talent for trainer Cherie DeVaux.
Trainer of the Week: Brad Cox has quickly become one of the must-use trainers in the last few years and Saturday showed why. While 2019 champion 2-year-old filly British Idiom finished second in her 3-year-old debut, Cox had five winners from 12 runners across three tracks with four others finishing in the top three. The highlight of the day may have been Mr. Monomoy’s victory in the first division of the Grade 2 Risen Star. In addition to winning that important Kentucky Derby prep with the half-brother to Cox’s champion and Kentucky Oaks winners Monomoy Girl, he sent out a graded stakes winner on the turf in Factor This.
Sire Of The Week: Palace Malice kept the momentum of last year’s freshman sire crop rolling Saturday with three important victories. The most important of those three winners was Grade 2 Risen Star winner Mr. Monomoy, who becomes the second graded stakes winner for his sire. He is the first of those two on dirt with Palace Malice also the sire of Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Structor, who is aiming for the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Feb. 29 in an attempt to jump on the Kentucky Derby trail. Palace Malice has proven to be a versatile sire with winners on both dirt and turf and his two maiden winners helped prove that this weekend with both winning on the turf. Palace Malice stands at Three Chimneys Farm for an advertised fee of $25,000.
Bits and Pieces: Sweet Life has been rewarded with a Broodmare of the Year title for her produce record and Saturday she showed that her daughters have inherited her talent with two stakes winners from the family. The first came in the form of Naughty Thoughts at Laurel, who claimed her first stakes win in the Wide Country. Claimed for $25,000 in November, the great-granddaughter of Sweet Life has been knocking on the door for a stakes victory since December with two thirds at the level.
Later that afternoon, Modernist put himself on the Kentucky Derby trail winning the second division of the Grade 2 Risen Star less than a month after breaking his maiden. The colt is a third generation homebred for the Wygod family, who also bred his dam Symbolic Gesture and granddam Sweet Life. Sweet Life is also the dam of Breeders’ Cup winners Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet.
• Finite proved she’ll continue to be a force on the Kentucky Oaks trail Saturday winning her fifth straight race in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, defeating champion British Idiom. The flashy Munnings filly is an intriguing runner, as she is also nominated for the Triple Crown. Trainer Steve Asmussen isn’t afraid to take on males with the right horse as he ran this race’s namesake against them multiple times on the way to Horse of the Year honors in 2009.
• The Factor has used the Murphy’s Law of standing in another country to his advantage with multiple graded stakes winners since his return from Japan in 2019. That success continued again over the weekend when he sired three winners. The aforementioned Naughty Thoughts started his day off with the Wide Country victory before Factor This won the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Stakes. While not earning blacktype, The Adrie Factor rounded out the day with a victory in the Arizona Oaks, her third straight victory and fourth overall.
• Country House’s fairytale on the track came to an end Friday when the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner was officially retired. The 4-year-old has been fighting issues since late June, according to a statement released by Blackwood Stables, and developed laminitis. The farm expects that he’ll make a full recovery, but the issues have ended his racing career. “Over the past seven months, our primary focus has solely been on Country House and his health,” the statement said. “With the Derby right around the corner and his health much improved, we felt it was an appropriate time to make this announcement. We appreciate everyone's patience during this difficult time.” The day after Country House’s retirement was announced, his trainer Bill Mott entered the 2020 Derby trail with Modernist winning the Risen Star in his stakes debut. Country House made his stakes debut in last year’s Risen Star, finishing second to War Of Will.