Fritchie, Gen. George turn spotlight on Maryland

On Horse Racing

February 13, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

So often, Marylanders have to look elsewhere for big races. Next weekend, we need look no farther than Laurel Park for what could be two of the most competitive and prestigious races in the country.

On Saturday, some of America's fastest fillies and mares will compete in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap. And on Monday, Presidents Day, some of the fastest male horses will race in the General George Handicap. Both races are seven furlongs, Grade II with purses of $200,000.

David Rollinson, Laurel's stakes coordinator, says the twin races could boast full fields of 14 horses -- based on which trainers come who actually say they're coming. As anyone who has ever talked to a trainer knows, they sometimes say one thing and do something else.

One trainer has acted on his commitment. Currently in South Florida, Vinnie Blengs has shipped Potomac Bend to Laurel. She arrived Thursday. Blengs will arrive tomorrow. The filly will work Tuesday. Come Saturday, she will be one of the favorites in the Fritchie.

A 4-year-old Maryland-bred daughter of Polish Numbers and Gravina, Potomac Bend won all four of her races at 2 and 3. The first three victories came at Laurel, the fourth at Aqueduct, the Grade III Cicada Stakes. In her 4-year-old debut Jan. 24, a six-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park, she caught a sloppy track and didn't run a lick, finishing nearly 30 lengths behind the winner.

"I should have scratched the horse," Blengs said. "It was a mistake on my part."

But the owner, Wayne Harrison, and the jockey, Mark Johnston, had flown down from Maryland, and Blengs said he felt an obligation to run Potomac Bend. She had trained beautifully for that race, and she has trained beautifully since, Blengs said. He expects a big effort next weekend, he said.

She'll need one because some outstanding fillies and mares are coming to challenge her. Trainer John Kimmel plans to send Speeding Star, a 5-year-old mare from Argentina on a four-race win streak. The most recent came Jan. 19 in a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, her first for Kimmel. The previous three wins (and 10 of her 11 starts) occurred in South America.

The Fritchie favorite could be the 4-year-old Her She Kisses, if she comes. New York trainer P. G. Johnson recently took over her training. In eight starts at four tracks, including Santa Anita Park, the Dehere filly has won five and finished second three times. She has never crossed the wire farther than a length behind the winner.

Joe Orseno, trainer for two-time Eclipse Award-winning owner Frank Stronach, plans to send Stronach's Tap to Music, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and winner of last year's Delaware Handicap. And that wily local trainer, A. Ferris Allen III, plans to start Passeggiata, the Fritchie defending champ.

The General George might be an even better race, featuring Affirmed Success (a multiple Grade I winner), Badge (third in last year's Preakness), Bet Me Best (an early favorite for last year's Kentucky Derby) and Big Jag (third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint).

Big races elsewhere

Of course, the Fritchie and General George aren't the only big races next weekend. The Fountain of Youth Stakes, the first Grade I race for East Coast 3-year-olds eyeing the Kentucky Derby, will take place Saturday at Gulfstream Park in South Florida.

Besides covering that race, I will start my weekly Derby Dozen, ranking the top 12 contenders for the Kentucky Derby, always the first Saturday in May (May 6 this year) at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

Nobody has ever confused me with an astute handicapper, or even a plain ol' handicapper, and you won't after I tell you this: Last year, Ally's Alley headed my initial Derby Dozen (oops, he never made the race), and the year before, Coronado's Quest did (oops again, he never made the race, either).

On neither list did I include the eventual Derby winner (Charismatic last year, Real Quiet the year before). But I did rank Lemon Drop Kid, the Belmont winner, second last year, and in 1998, well, let's just say that 1998 was a long time ago and best forgotten.

$1M for equine charities

Ellen and Herb Moelis' Thoroughbred Charities of America auction last Saturday at their CandyLand Farm in Middletown, Del., raised nearly $1 million for various equine charities. That is believed to be a record for a thoroughbred charity auction.

It featured stallion seasons and equine art and memorabilia, and for the first time included a phone link to more than 200 prospective bidders in Lexington, Ky. The highest bid by far for a stallion breeding was $125,000 for Coronado's Quest, the regally bred colt campaigned by Maryland's Stuart S. Janney III. Coronado's Quest stands at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. (He was a heck of a Derby contender, too.)

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