Hibiscus Punch has final breeze before return to racing

Hibiscus Punch
Hibiscus Punch scored a stunner in the Fritchie. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

Ed Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s homebred mare Hibiscus Punch, upset winner of last winter’s Barbara Fritchie (G3), moved closer to her return to racing with a sharp five-furlong breeze Saturday at Laurel Park.

The 7-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, headed to the $100,000 What a Summer Jan. 29 at Laurel, was timed in 1:02.80 over a fast main track, ranking first of 15 horses. Regular rider Horacio Karamanos was aboard for the work.

“Horacio has been on her the last four or five breezes, and he was very happy with her,” trainer Justin Nixon said. “She’s doing well.

“It’s tough to gauge, the time. The track was very deep and cuppy. That’s not anything negative about the track, it’s just the way winter racing is,” he added. “I thought she worked very well given the weather and everything, and we’re on track for the 29th.”

Hibiscus Punch worked with 5-year-old stablemate Chicago River, a maiden winner last fall at Laurel, who was clocked in 1:04 for the same distance.

“She had a little company today, just to get a little better race preparation for her,” Nixon said. “Normally she just works by herself, but today we paired her up and she outworked the company pretty handily. She’s been off quite a while and we wanted to get her feet wet a little bit and do the best we can to have her race ready for the 29th.”

The six-furlong What a Summer for fillies and mares 4 and up, pushed back from January 22 because of weather and track conditions, will be the first start for Hibiscus Punch since finishing a troubled fifth in the Derby City Distaff (G1) last May at Churchill Downs. Given the summer off, she returned to the work tab in early November and has been steadily prepped for her comeback.

Hibiscus Punch was entered to end her layoff in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Jan. 8 at Laurel, but the live program was canceled. Among the horses she beat at odds of 41-1 in the 2021 Fritchie were multiple stakes winners Hello Beautiful, Dontletsweetfoolya and Needs Supervision and three-time graded-stakes placed Club Car.

The ultimate goal, Nixon said, is to make a title defense in the $250,000 Fritchie, which co-headlines Laurel’s Feb. 19 card with the $250,000 General George (G3). The What a Summer is among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses Jan. 29.

“We have her as good as we can. From there, there’s a lot that can go wrong,” Nixon said. “Hopefully everything just goes smoothly up to the 29th and we have a good day.”