Five questions for Saturday’s Laurel Park stakes
Jockey Trevor McCarthy exults as Uncontested wins the 2019 Grade 3 General George at Laurel Park. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
Laurel Park hosts five stakes on Saturday in its biggest day of the winter. Two of those — the twin Grade 3, seven-furlong events, the Fritchie for the distaff set and the General George for the boys — are the top winter races in Maryland.
And as you might expect, we’ve got some questions:
WHAT’LL IT MEAN IF ANNA’S BANDIT RACES IN THE G3 FRITCHIE?
In short: it’ll mean that trainer Jerry Robb and his wife (and co-owner) Gina think the six-year-old Great Notion mare has a big, big shot.
Robb has handled this one masterfully during her career, in which she’s won 16 of 33 starts and finished in the money 10 additional times while earning more than $700,000.
And Robb has been upfront: he’s trying to find the kinds of spots in which his charge should win. He’s not, in other words, trying to swim in the deep end.
Anna’s Bandit is 3-1 on the morning line here, second choice to Saguaro Row (9-5), and if she does post — and signs are that she will — it means the trainer likes his chances.
CAN ANYONE TAKE DOWN FIRENZE FIRE IN THE GENERAL GEORGE?
The day’s co-feature, the Grade 3 General George, has attracted a field of nine, but all eyes will be on one horse: Firenze Fire.
The five-year-old son of Poseidon’s Warrior has won four graded stakes, posted nine wins overall, and generated purse earnings of nearly $1.7 million. That’s about three times the $543,000 that his nearest competitor, Still Having Fun, has earned.
Firenze Fire, trained by Jason Servis for owner-breeder Mr Amore Stable, enters on a two-race win streak and prior to that was a pretty good fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. This will be his first start of 2020, and he’s showing just three middling works in the interim, though that is Servis’ m.o.
Irad Ortiz has the mount.
Firenze Fire is 4-5 on the morning line, and the only other runners with single-digit odds are an uncoupled entry trained by Linda Rice. Tiz He the One (8-1) likes Laurel (5-for-7) and likes this seven-furlong distance (2-for-2); he was third last out in the Fire Plug and will have Trevor McCarthy up. And Wicked Trick (6-1) enters on a six-race win streak that’s seen him go from winning against $20,000 maidens to winning twice in allowance company while his speed figs have risent from 70 to 101.
WILL ANY MIRACLE WOOD RUNNERS STAMP THEMSELVES TRIPLE CROWN MATERIAL?
A year ago, Alwaysmining ran the table in Maryland’s three-year-old stakes, including the Miracle Wood, to earn a berth in the Preakness, in which he finished eleventh.
In this year’s renewal of the one-mile, $100,000 test for three-year-olds are three who are nominated to the Triple Crown.
The morning line favorite is Dreams Untold. The Smarty Jones gelding — bred by Smarty’s co-owner Patricia Chapman and owned by her Someday Farm — was third on debut but followed that up with an eye-catching 14-length maiden score at Parx Racing January 4, in which he earned a Beyer speed fig of 89, tops in the field.
Two others also get the Triple Crown logo. Amen Corner (10-1) graduated last out narrowly at Laurel and gets Lasix on today for his first try beyond six furlongs. Feargal Lynch has the mount for trainer Jerry O’Dwyer.
Lynch replaces Sheldon Russell, who jumps ship to ride Mine Not Mine (12-1) for his wife Brittany. This one was a $210,000 auction purchase at December’s Fasig-Tipton Mixed Sale after winning impressively at first asking and following that with a credible stakes debut, in which he was fourth in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity.
CAN ALWAYSMINING KEEP IT GOING IN THE CAMPBELL?
Alwaysmining, the Maryland-bred who carried local hopes into last year’s Preakness, ended a five-race losing streak with a decisive win last out (at 3-10 odds) in the Jennings for Maryland-breds. Saturday he’ll try his hand in the $100,000 John B. Campbell, and it’s no easy spot.
Two races ago, Alwaysmining finished second in the Native Dancer at 1 1/8 miles — in the process splitting winner Someday Jones and show horse Monongahela, both of whom will be in the Campbell. In their prior start, Monongahela had won the 1 1/16-mile Swatara at Penn National, and Someday Jones had run second.
The nine-furlong Native Dancer might be an inch too far for Alwaysmining — he led leaving the furlong grounds but could not hold off Someday Jones — but here they’ll race at the in-between distance of 1 1/16 miles. These three look best, with Monongahela the slight 2-1 morning line favorite.
Julian Pimentel will ride Alwaysmining (3-1) for trainer Kelly Rubley.
WILL IT BE A FIRST-TIME STAKES WINNER IN THE WIDE COUNTRY?
Of the nine entered in the seven-furlong Wide Country for three-year-old fillies, only one — morning line favorite Bella Aurora (3-1) — has won a stake to date. The Mike Trombetta trainee won the Gin Talking Stakes over the main track last time out and previously was placed in a pair of turf stakes. Regular pilot Julian Pimentel has the call.
But if the chalk doesn’t excite you, there are plenty of other ways to go in this contest. Ruthless Stakes show horse Miss Marissa (4-1), for trainer Jim Ryerson, should be a player here, as could Gin Talking show horse Naughty Thoughts. Then there are the rapidly improving Claudio Gonzalez trainee Princess Cadey, a seven-length allowance winner last out, and Bankruptonthebeach, a first-out winner last July at Monmouth for Jason Servis who’ll have Irad Ortiz in the irons.
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