Still Having Fun favored in G3 General George
Following a sophomore season that saw him travel around the country to compete on some of racing’s biggest days, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing’s Grade 2 winner Still Having Fun will face an accomplished field of 13 rivals for his return to Maryland in Saturday’s $250,000 General George (G3) at Laurel Park.
The 43rd running of the General George for 4-year-olds and up and the 67th renewal of the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3) for fillies and mares 4 and older, both at seven furlongs, co-headline a 10-race Winter Carnival program that features five stakes worth $800,000 in purses. Still Having Fun is the lukewarm 9-2 morning line favorite in the General George.
A trio of $100,000 stakes are also on tap – the one-mile Miracle Wood presented by Blackwell Real Estate for 3-year-olds and Wide Country at about 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies, and the 1 1/8-mile John B. Campbell presented by Fidelity First for 4-year-olds and up.
First race post time is 12:30 p.m.
Still Having Fun (pictured above winning last year’s Miracle Wood Stakes, photo by Laurie Asseo) won back-to-back stakes at Laurel last winter to begin his sophomore season, the Frank Whiteley Jr. and Miracle Wood, staying local when stretched out for the Private Terms and Federico Tesio, finishing off the board each time. He was cut back to a sprint for the Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness (G1) undercard, running second to Mitole, who freaked by 6 ¼ lengths over the sloppy surface.
Encouraged by the effort, trainer Tim Keefe shipped him to Belmont Park for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) on Belmont Stakes (G1) day, where Still Having Fun rallied from far back to post a 13-1 upset. He was winless in five subsequent starts, including fifth in the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) on the Travers (G1) undercard at Saratoga and Cherokee Run Stakes during the Breeders’ Cup program at Churchill Downs, both at seven furlongs.
“It was like no other year I’ve had … not because he’s a horse that’s made half a million dollars, but he’s a horse that everything he does he seems to enjoy. He’s taken me to all the big races,” Keefe said. “He took me to Preakness Day, he took me to Belmont Day, to Travers Day to the Breeders’ Cup, to the little track out in Ohio I never would have gone to before. And to cap off his year out in California … it was definitely something I haven’t done before.
“This is the first time I’ve had a horse … that I can take to different places outside of Maryland and not be 20-1, and have a realistic shot of running a huge race for us,” he added. “It was great. He logged a little over 10,000 miles of traveling last year, and it doesn’t faze him. It absolutely doesn’t faze him. He’s got a great mental capacity. He takes care of himself.”
Still Having Fun wrapped up last season running third in the six-furlong Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley and seven-furlong Malibu (G1), the latter behind McKinzie, Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. All 11 of his 2018 starts, which included three wins and $472,200 in purse earnings, came exclusively against 3-year-olds.
“It’s kind of a different ballgame running against 3-year-olds. The class of older horses is always tough. It’ll be interesting to see how he can step up to handle the older horses,” Keefe said. “I’m glad everything worked out last year. Knock on wood, he’s healthy. Everything seems great.
“I love having the fact that I can run him right here at home. I’ve always said that I love walking right out of the stall. I know he likes the track here, although he hasn’t shown me any track that he really doesn’t like too much,” he added. “I’m excited to have him here and see what he can do. It’s a little, I don’t want to say nerve-wracking but it’s just whether or not he’s going to be good enough to compete now with the older horses.”
California-based rider Flavien Prat, in town to ride Adam Wachtel’s recently purchased Grade 1 winner Spiced Perfection in the Barbara Fritchie, has the call on Still Having Fun from Post 6 at 122 pounds, a weight he shares with 2018 Fall Highweight (G3) winner Life in Shambles, who drew Post 8.