Xtra Heat bursts through the fog to win the Fritchie.  Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Xtra Heat bursts through the fog to win the 2003 Fritchie. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

by Frank Vespe

Saturday’s 63rd running of the Grade 2, $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel will serve as the winter meet’s highlight.  This year’s event looks to attract red-hot local runners like Lady Sabelia, as well as classy shipper Sam’s Sister, a Grade 1 winner.

Some facts, figs, and key dates in Fritchie history:

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  • What’s in a name?  Lancaster, PA native Barbara Fritchie is best remembered for her starring role in the John Greenleaf Whittier poem, Barbara Frietchie.  In the incident Whittier recounts — which likely never happened, or at least, didn’t happen the way he recounted it — Fritchie, by then 95 years old, stood up to the Confederate forces, headed by Stonewall Jackson, moving through Frederick, MD.  When they shot up the American flag flying from her home, she grabbed it and, according to Whitter, challenged the Rebels, saying, “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag.”  Thus shamed, Jackson order his men to march on and leave the flag (and its owner) unharmed.
  • First running: 1952 at Bowie.  Singing Beauty won the inaugural event, contested at 1 1/16 miles, in 1:51 3/5.  She earned the hefty sum of $14,875.
  • Multiple winners: Several horses have won the race multiple times: Too Bald (1968-1969), Twixt (1974-1975), Skipat (1979, 1981), and Xtra Heat (2002-2003).
  • Not this year: Three times since its first running, the race has not been carded: 1960, 1972, and 2006.
  • Distance questions: The race has been contested at four different distances, ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.  It found its current 7-furlong home for good in 1964, when Pams Ego won.
  • Twice as nice: March 3, 1984 was a good day for jockey Donnie Miller.  The Fritchie was contested in two divisions that day — and Miller won both of them.  He steered Pleasure Cay to victory in one division and then guided Bara Lass home first in the other.  For good measure, he also won a division of the split race the following year, and his four career wins are the most recorded by a jockey.
  • Training title: According to Wikipedia, trainer Katy Voss has registered the most wins the race, three.  She conditioned Twixt to her two victories in ’74 and ’75 and also was the trainer of Wood So, who won in 1992.
  • Last local: The last Maryland-based winner of the race was Sweet Goodbye, trained by Chris Grove, in 2010.
  • Key dates:
    • 3/3/84 — Donnie Miller wins both divisions of the split race.  Last running at Bowie.
    • 3/10/85 — First running at Laurel.  Race is again run in divisions, and the winners are Dumdedumdedum and Flip’s Pleasure.
    • 2/12/89 — Tappiano takes the Fritchie, with Kent Desormeaux up.  Her winning time — 1:21 2/5 — sets what at the time is a new track record and remains the stakes record.
    • 2/15/92 — Wood So, with Mario Pino up, defeats Wide Country to win the Fritchie and give trainer Katy Voss her record third Fritchie win.
    • 2/22/03 — The great Xtra Heat, with regular rider Rick Wilson in the irons, closes out her glittering career with her second Fritchie win for trainer John Salzman, Sr.  Carson Hollow chased to no avail through thick fog.
    • 2/17/07 — The Fritchie returns after a one-year hiatus, with Oprah Winney defeating local star Silmaril to get the win.

(Featured image, of My Wandy’s Girl winning the 2014 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, by Laurie Asseo.)

Frank Vespe, the founder of The Racing Biz, has owned, bought, sold, claimed, and written about horses, in varying combinations, for a decade.