Steam drifted off the top of his head as Kendrick Carmouche slowly caught his breath while working a white towel through his hands and talking about Misconnect’s hard-charging win in the General George Handicap at a frosty Laurel Park Monday.
Carmouche was cold, but his horse’s effort provided plenty of warmth.
“It’s cold, but hey we get paid to do it; it’s a winter sport,” he said. “If you look at his form, he only wins the last sixteenth of his races. He will not win at the quarter pole if you make the lead, he will not win at the eighth pole if you make the lead, but if he’s in contention at the sixteenth pole he will win.”
It was not as easy as Carmouche made it sound for the Repole Stable 4-year-old, who needed every yard of the 7 furlongs to get past Cutty Shark and win by a neck in 1:24.67. Worth $250,000, the Grade 3 General George finished off six stakes at the Maryland track over the weekend and was one of just two that went to out-of-towners despite big names such as D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Hollendorfer and Marty Wolfson among the entries.
Trained by Bruce Levine at Belmont Park, Misconnect came out of two winter stakes going longer at Aqueduct, but thrived at the return to 7 furlongs.
Sent off at better than 11-1 in the field of 12, Misconnect found a spot in fifth early – just off the pace of Zee Bros, but within touch on a day where early speed struggled to stay on in the stretch. On the turn, 5/2 second choice Zee Bros dispatched Smash And Grab and built a quick 2-length lead. Behind him, West Hills Giant tried to match the move, but stayed put. Just off his flank, Forest Boyce revved up Cutty Shark. Carmouche followed with Misconnect. Off the turn, Cutty Shark went after Zee Bros as announcer Dave Rodman blasted “And here comes the shark…” and swept past after switching leads. Zee Bros offered no resistance and after 6 furlongs in 1:11.33, Cutty Shark looked like a winner.
A half-furlong later, he didn’t.
The dark gray Misconnect, white front bandages flashing at every stride, gobbled up the margin like a different shark ate into the Orca’s transom. Three strides from the wire, Misconnect finally drew even and swept past for his first stakes win. Souper Knight rallied from last to finish third while Perilous Indian was fourth. The first four finishers went off at 11-1, 25-1, 28-1 and 131-1 to create a 10-cent superfecta payout of $18,074.50. Zee Bros wound up 11th, one spot behind favorite Bourbon Courage.
Bred by Alpha Delta Stable in Kentucky and sold as a 2-year-old at Keeneland, Misconnect won for the fourth time in nine starts. In his debut at Saratoga 2013, he finished second to Honor Code going 7 furlongs, then graduated the maiden ranks at the distance at Belmont. The son of Unbridled’s Song won his first 3-year-old start going 7 furlongs last May, but made his next five starts at a mile or longer – winning a two-other-than optional claimer and nibbling around some minor stakes including a third to the Repole-owned Micromanage and Vyjack two back at Aqueduct.
Carmouche was aboard for the most recent run, a fourth (again behind Micromanage) in Aqueduct’s Jazil Stakes Jan. 19.
“I thought if I could keep him closer, off the route races, it would help,” said the jockey. “He ran some very good races in his younger age going 7 furlongs. I thought if I kept him close he would finish the last eighth of a mile.”
He did, denying Boyce and trainer Donald Barr a stakes double after they teamed to win the Miracle Wood with Savvy Street.
“If I finish sixth here, I’m probably lucky,” Barr said of Cutty Shark’s chances in the General George. “But at least I paid my way.”
Did he ever. One race before the General George, Savvy Street won a four-horse stretch scramble to take the $100,000 stakes for 3-year-olds. The winner prevailed by a nose over Combat Driver, who had a neck on Golden Years, who was a head in front of Bodhisattva.
Owned by Barbara Houck, the winner improved to 3-for-6 while getting a mile in 1:40.36. The race completed a turnaround of sorts for the Keeneland September yearling purchase, whose 2-year-old season hit a pothole with a fifth in the Christopher Elser Memorial (a South Carolina residency race) at Parx Racing in November.
Barr expected more of his horse that day and blended clichés to prove it: “He didn’t run any part of the race, really, and I went back to the drawing board and that’s not good. Then you have to reshuffle the cards and think ‘Oh my goodness, I really like him and I got beat like that. What’s going on?’ It was a long drive home.”
The son of Street Sense has been making up for it ever since, returning to finish second to Bodhisattva at Laurel Dec. 18 and post an easy optional-claiming win Jan. 9. That win, and a spot-on training schedule, produced an even better horse Monday.
“I felt like I was good today,” said Barr. “This is one of the first times I’ve had him where I wanted him to be. I got the training in, the training came together, I got to work him on a good track. That’s important. These guys have done a good job with this racetrack, keeping it open through thick and thin.”
Monday’s stakes three-pack got started with 3-year-old fillies, where Gypsy Judy did a pretty OK impression of her older stablemate Lady Sabelia (who won Saturday’s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie) in the $100,000 Wide Country Stakes.
Trained by Robin Graham and ridden by Horacio Karamanos, as is Lady Sabelia, Gypsy Judy ran down Hot City Girl in the stretch to score by 3 1/4 lengths for owner/breeder Jim Hibbert. Making her fourth career start, all since Nov. 19, Gypsy Judy rewarded Hibbert for some patience. The Marylander bought the filly’s dam Noel at OBS April in 2006. The daughter of Stormy Atlantic ran once, before becoming a broodmare – which wasn’t really the plan.
“Plan A didn’t work out very well, the one and only race, but she was well-bred and I went right to Plan B,” said Hibbert. “If you’re a little guy, a guppy in a big pond like this, it can be a tough gig, but you’ve got to have a Plan B.”
Noel’s first foal, Xmas Sky, has won five races and set a track record on the turf at Laurel last year. Her second foal, Prayer On a Wing, finished second in a Laurel maiden race Feb. 6. Her third foal is Gypsy Judy, now a stakes winner of $97,200. Hibbert is along for the ride.
“The mare had something that was very competitive,” he said. “She had an issue and I didn’t want to push it so she didn’t run again. She passed that DNA on to the offspring. Robin has done a great job, and forgive me for not doing this (in the television interview) but I should have thanked the groom. I’ve got cotton mouth, I’m excited, I’m not a good-looking guy anyway, I can’t imagine what I looked like up there. The groom does a phenomenal job. It takes a great job. Horacio, Robin, the groom – they did it.”
Saturday, Graham won the Fritchie with Lady Sabelia for owners/breeders Frank and Ginny Wright. The 5-year-old mare has won four in a row and six of her last seven. Saturday, she set the pace through fractions of :22.67 and :45.61 and simply kept going. She got 6 furlongs in 1:10.18 and finished 7 furlongs in 1:23.14. Princess Violet chased in second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, with longshot Expression third and Grade 1-winning California shipper Sam’s Sister fourth.
Trainer Mary Eppler won the $100,000 John B. Campbell with Page McKenney to continue a string of 12 consecutive top-three finishes. The 5-year-old, who races for Adam Staple and Jalin Stable, charged home from the middle of the track and prevailed by a head over 2014 Campbell winner Behemoth with A. P. Chino third.
Saturday’s finale, the $100,000 Maryland Racing Media Stakes, went to Jim and Susan Hill’s Lunar Surge and trainer George Weaver. The favorite rallied from 10th early to win by a length over Flores Island with Luna Time third. The 5-year-old mare finished third in the 2014 race and collected her third lifetime win.
Karamanos won three of the six stakes – riding Lady Sabelia, Page McKenney and Gypsy Judy. Warm-weather shippers struggled in the extreme cold as Florida-based runners Flores Island (second in the Racing Media) and Princess Violet (second in the Fritchie) were the only two placings in the six races.
Sunday’s card was canceled because of low temperatures and high winds. Monday dawned with record lows and cancellations at Aqueduct and Oaklawn Park, but Laurel officials and jockeys put on a 10-race card.
“Maryland racing is getting very good and they support us with our decisions whether we want to ride or not,” said Carmouche. “This is what we make our living on, so we’ve got to go out there sometimes and suck it up and do the right thing for all of us. With that being said, God keep us safe and warm.”
Handle on the day was up more than $1 million over the 2014 card.
Jockey Sheldon Russell won two on Monday to climb to 997 for his career.