FRITCHIE WINNER HIBISCUS PUNCH TO TACKLE GAMINE
Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s homebred Hibiscus Punch, upset winner of the Runhappy Barbara Fritchie (G3) Feb. 20 at Laurel Park, is entered to make her first start since in Saturday’s Derby City Distaff (G1) on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard at Churchill Downs.
Hibiscus Punch, based at Laurel with trainer Justin Nixon, drew Post 5 in a field of six for the seven-furlong sprint led by 2020 champion female sprinter Gamine. It is carded seventh on a 14-race program (1:56 p.m.).
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“Ed wanted to give her a whirl over there. He wanted to take a shot in a Grade 1 with her,” Nixon said. “We had to juggle some things, so it kind of turned into Plan A.”
Hibiscus Punch is 12-1 on the morning line and will have Luis Saez in the irons. Gamine, the morning line favorite trained by Bob Baffert, is 1-5.
Hibiscus Punch was entered in the $100,000 Primonetta April 24 at Pimlico Race Course, originally part of the six-stakes, $650,000 Spring Stakes Spectacular program, but the race didn’t fill. Instead, the 6-year-old mare breezed five furlongs that morning in 1:02.80 over Pimlico’s main track.
“We adapted to the schedule change and we got in a nice work at Pimlico,” Nixon said. “She’s doing good.”
Following the Fritchie, Nixon had initially hoped to send Hibiscus Punch to Kentucky for the seven-furlong Madison (G1) April 3 but was unable to travel due to an equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) quarantine at Laurel that has since been lifted.
“We were disappointed not to go to Keeneland, obviously, but that’s what happens. Horse racing, you make the best of plans and you better be ready to make changes,” Nixon said. “It doesn’t always go the way you want it to. We’ll see how she fares at Churchill. We’re looking forward to it, to give her ran opportunity. Hopefully she runs well.”
Hibiscus Punch provided Nixon with his first career graded-stakes victory in the Fritchie, sitting off a pace set by multiple stakes winners Hello Beautiful and Dontletsweetfoolya before sweeping past to win by 2 ½ lengths at odds of 41-1.
“Yeah, we watch the replay quite a bit. I’m guilty of that,” Nixon said. “I do go back and watch the replay and it’s definitely a ‘wow’ kind of a race, isn’t it?”
Following Saturday, Nixon said the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship Series, a collection of 24 stakes worth $2.75 million in purses held primarily in Maryland through Dec. 26, is a possible target for Hibiscus Punch.
The MATCH Series kicks off with the $250,000 Pimlico Special (G3) and $150,000 Allaire du Pont (G3) May 14 and $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3) and $100,000 Skipat May 15 at Pimlico.
“I’ve talked to Ed about the MATCH Series, so there’s a possibility of her participating in some of those,” Nixon said. “We’re just going to take it one day at a time after Saturday and see what happens.”