The week began for Chris Grove on Sunday with "A Night for Noah," a racing community fund-raiser for Grove's 5-year-old son, who lost a leg to cancer. It could end Saturday with Grove, a horse trainer, earning the biggest win of his career in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.
Yesterday, the Grove-trained Silmaril drew Post 2 in the 10-horse Barbara Fritchie, a Grade II stakes of seven furlongs at Laurel Park. The Barbara Fritchie for fillies and mares is the first half of the track's Winter SprintFest. Its companion race for males, the General George Handicap, is Monday.
Although this is Maryland racing's most significant weekend of the winter, it will have to share center stage with the fund-raiser for Noah Grove. About 550 people attended the event in the Carriage Room at Laurel Park that raised more than $120,000.
"I don't even know what to say," Chris Grove said yesterday at Laurel. "To me, it was like the social event of the year. Everybody was there."
From jockeys and trainers to horse owners and racing officials, the community of the racetrack rallied in support of the freckle-faced boy whose left leg was amputated at the knee. The surgery took place last June after doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in Noah's tibia.
Grove, 35, a former exercise rider who began training in 1998, had difficulty shifting attention from the fund-raiser to the Barbara Fritchie. He still seemed almost in shock at the turnout and generosity.
The post-position draw helped him to redirect focus to the race. Ten fillies and mares were entered, including last year's winner, Bear Fan, a 6-year-old who spent the winter in South Florida.
Frank Carulli, Laurel Park oddsmaker, made Bear Fan the even-money favorite. In the past year, she won four of six races, including a pair of Grade II sprints at Belmont Park. In her other two races, she finished second.
She's the class of the field, leading in quality races won and money earned ($748,150). Silmaril, at 10-1, has won seven of 10 races but never faced a horse as accomplished as Bear Fan.
Bear Fan runs on or near the lead. Silmaril rallies from the rear.
So, Grove was asked, Silmaril will have to pass Bear Fan at some point if she's going to win, right? Grove smiled and said: "She's going to have to pass them all if she's going to win."
Silmaril will need help up front - sizzling fractions by the pacesetters - to set up her late charge. If she gets help, Grove said, then she can win.
"Just look at her races," he said. "She's always right there. She gives everything she has. I don't think this race is going to be any different."
Susan Quick, who owns and bred Silmaril with her husband, Steve, and their partner, Chris Feifarek, took one look at Bear Fan's past performances and said: "It's going to be tough. The big girls are coming for this race."
But Quick, too, had trouble letting go of the fund-raiser. She and her husband donated a framed Fred Stone print of the famed scene from the 1999 Belmont, when jockey Chris Antley cradled Charismatic's broken leg. The Quicks knew Noah Grove was born, literally, during Charismatic's winning run in the 1999 Kentucky Derby.
The Quicks donated the print to the auction and then bought it for $1,000. They gave it to Noah. The boy received other gifts that way, including the bit Smarty Jones wore in last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Willie White, a partner in the Skeedattle racing operations, bought it for $2,500 and handed it to Noah.
When Chris Grove and his wife, Rachael, returned home that night to Frederick, they looked closer at the Charismatic print. They realized, almost at the same moment, that the leg Antley cradled was the horse's left. They burst into tears.
Field for Barbara Fritchie Handicap
PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Sensibly Chic Tim Tullock Jr. Ramon Dominguez 9-2
2 Silmaril Chris Grove Abel Castellano Jr. 10-1
3 Spectacular Moon Guadalupe Preciado Dyn Panell 30-1
4 Josh's Madelyn J. Larry Jones Justin Shepherd 10-1
5 Wallop Donald Barr Nik Goodwin 15-1
6 Lavender Lass Kiaran McLaughlin Horacio Karamanos 12-1
7 Bear Fan Wesley Ward John Velazquez Even
8 Cativa Richard Dutrow Jr. Edgar Prado 5-1
9 Richetta Robin Graham Mario Pino 15-1
10 Santa Croce Thomas Bush Mike Luzzi 20-1
When: Saturday to Monday
Where: Laurel Park
Highlights: $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Saturday; $200,000 General George Handicap on Monday
Extras: On Saturday, jockey autograph session 11:30 a.m. to noon and giveaways; on Sunday, free admission; on Monday, free Laurel Park mugs
Post time: 12:35 p.m.