Road Trip: Quezon, New Yorkers head to Laurel

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The Brook-Ledge Horse Transport guy told trainer Bob Ribaudo the trip from Belmont Park to Laurel Park was all set. “I’m going to put a couple on with you, but they’re close. Won’t be a big deal.” Ribaudo said OK and asked who the others were. “Mott and Highway Star,” came the reply. Ribaudo laughed and shook his head.

“One way or another, I think you’re taking the winner down there,” he said, pondering the difficulty of Saturday’s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, the headliner on an 11-race card with six stakes at Laurel. Ribaudo’s $754,000 earner Quezon, the Bill Mott-trained Boule and millionaire Highway Star can talk strategy on the 230-mile trip from New York to Maryland today. And one could very well be the winner. The traveling companions are part of an 11-horse field in the $300,000 Fritchie, a fixture at Bowie Race Course or Laurel since 1952.

“It’s a little salty, a little tougher than I thought it might be or at least tougher than I’d like but for that kind of money in the northeast this time of year that’s what you get,” said Ribaudo, who trains Quezon for Marc Keller. “This has always been that type of race.”

The 2017 version fits right in.

Highway Star is the slight 7-2 favorite for Chester and Mary Broman and trainer Rodrigo Ubillo. The 5-year-old daughter of Girolamo won five of seven in 2016 and was even better last year when she won the Grade 3 Distaff at Aqueduct, and the Grade 2 Ruffian and Gallant Bloom at Belmont. She also placed in two Grade 1 stakes and tried the big time in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint won by the Bromans’ Bar Of Gold. Highway Star finished second in the Grade 3 Go For Wand at Aqueduct in December to pass $1 million in career earnings. She carries high weight of 124 pounds under allowance conditions and will have to deal with the outside post. 

*A suspected equine herpes virus case at Belmont Park, resulting in the euthanization of a horse, will mean Belmont-based horses will not be allowed to ship into Laurel Park for Saturday’s races. Fourteen horses, including Quezon, Highway Star and Boule, will be scratched.

One stall to her inside will stand Quezon, a 6-year-old Tiz Wonderful mare with wins in her last two. A New York-bred, like Highway Star, Quezon seeks her first graded stakes win (she’s placed in three) and also looks to extend a supremely consistent career record of 15 top-three finishes in 18 starts. Purchased for $90,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred sale by Keller and Ribaudo in 2013, she’s won at least one stakes in every season of competition.

“You can count on one hand how many fillies win stakes at 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6,” said Ribaudo, who didn’t try. “A lot of hers are state-bred stakes, but that’s a pretty tough group. Highway Star is as nice a filly as you’re going to find anywhere, the Breeders’ Cup winner came out of that group, it’s a nice bunch.”

Quezon started her career with back-to-back wins including the Maid Of The Mist Stakes, in 2014 and added the Bouwerie in her only 2015 start. In 2016, she won the Iroquois to close a six-start campaign and temporarily suspend a potential career as a broodmare.

“We brought her back last year because her last two races (in 2016) were her best,” said Ribaudo. “Then the first couple starts of 2017 she just didn’t get back to her numbers, and there was a time where I was a little disappointed – hard to believe you could be disappointed in her – but then she got back to those numbers again at the end of last year.”

Quezon finished third (beaten less than a length by Highway Star and Carina Mia) in the Grade 3 Gallant Bloom in September, then missed by a half-length in the Iroquois a month later. The quality starts prompted Keller and Ribaudo to scratch their mare from the Keeneland November sale and press on to 2018.

“We said three more races,” said Ribaudo. Quezon obliged by winning the Garland Of Roses late last year and launching her 6-year-old campaign with a 4 1/4-length romp in the La Verdad last month. Next comes the Fritchie, and then . . . well, that’s up to Quezon.

“We secured a contract for her early on Gun Runner,” said Ribaudo of a breeding date with the 2017 Horse of the Year. “But if she went and won Saturday impressively and you think you can compete at that level again this year, then there’s a chance we may keep her running. If she really, really impresses, you give her a little break and run her in Saratoga or if she doesn’t, we can breed her to Gun Runner this year. They’re two good decisions, really.”

Quezon and jockey Joe Rocco Jr. are 2-for-2 together, and should be able to work out a trip – even from post 10. The 9-2 third choice, bred by Apache Farm, is tactical enough to sit just behind the speed, should benefit from a scratch or two inside (three Fritchie entrants are cross-entered in other races on the day) and won’t mind if the track comes up a little wet. The forecast calls for some rain Friday and possible snow Saturday.

Boule, a 4-year-old Juddmonte Farm homebred, makes her second stakes start for Mott after finishing second to Fritchie runner Divine Miss Grey in the Interborough at Aqueduct last month. The daughter of Exchange Rate and granddaughter of Juddmonte star Tates Creek has been first or second in all five dirt starts (and fifth in three turf tries). Manny Franco rides from post two at 12-1.

Another New York shipper, Divine Miss Grey breaks from the rail for Danny Gargan and Kendrick Carmouche. The 4-year-old Divine Park filly has won two in a row and five of eight since being claimed for $16,000 less than a year ago. She’s 9-2 on the morning line and may be forced to make the early running. Trainer Jason Servis ships Bishop’s Pond (10-1) in from New York. She won Laurel’s Thirty Eight Go Go going a mile in early January. Parx-based John Servis’ 4-year-old filly Ms Locust Point (4-1) rides a three-race winning streak – including her last two in 6-furlong stakes at Laurel – into the Fritchie.

Godolphin and Eoin Harty head to Maryland looking for graded black type with Moiety, who visits her eighth racetrack in her 11th start. Last out, she won the Mahoning Valley Distaff over Crabcakes among others. The daughter of Bernardini and Be Happy is 15-1 and will be ridden by Elvis Trujillo. Maryland-based trainer Graham Motion puts Berned (6-1, Feargal Lynch) on a van from Florida for the Fritchie. The 4-year-old Bernardini filly won Laurel’s Safely Kept at 7 furlongs last fall.

Tazkeya, second to Ms Locust Point twice recently, represents Shadwell Stable and trainer Michael Pino. Longshots Frisky Whiskey and Sky Flower complete the field.

NOTES: The day’s 10th race, the Fritchie is the last of six consecutive stakes on the card. The six pack gets started with the $100,000 John B. Campbell with six entrants led by even-money shot Afleet Willy and 2017 race winner Bodhisattva. Still Having Fun, Wentz and He Hate Me headline the $100,000 Mircale Wood at a mile for 3-year-olds. Fillies and mares go 1 1/16 miles in the Maryland Racing Media Stakes, where Bishop’s Pond is the 5-2 choice if she opts for this spot over the Fritchie. In The Navy Now has won two in a row. Three-year-old fillies meet in the 7-furlong Wide Country headed by Fools Gold from Chad Brown. The $250,000 General George drew 10 entrants including the first three home in the Fire Plug at Laurel Jan. 20. That day, Awesome Banner scored by a half-length over It’s The Journey, who had a neck on Something Awesome. They’ll have to contend with New Yorkers Great Stuff and Do Share.

Barbara Fritchie Trivia

  • The race’s namesake was something of a Civil War heroine. The story goes that Fritchie, then 95, waved a Union flag at Confederate soldiers led by General Stonewall Jackson as they traveled through Frederick, Md. on the way to Gettysburg.
  • California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman won the 1959 Fritchie (at Bowie) as a jockey with Tinkalero.
  • Boule’s pedigree is a lesson in class. Juddmonte bought the unraced broodmare Nijinsky Star (a daughter of the great Nijinsky and champion Chris Evert) in foal to Conquistador Cielo in the 1980s. Her 1990 foal, Viviana, produced $2.4 million earner Sightseek and $1.4 million earner Tates Creek. The latter produced Boule, when mated to Juddmonte’s Empire Maker. Others in the family include millionaire Bowman’s Band, who became a sire, graded winner Starformer, European champion Special Duty, Pollard’s Vision and others.