Bear Fan tries to do it again in Fritchie

Mare, who won last year, also being pointed toward Shaheen, Breeders' Cup

Horse Racing

February 19, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

By the end of the year, Bear Fan could be the most talked-about horse in the world. She could be known as the fastest horse, the mare who's beaten males in the two biggest sprint races on the planet.

She begins that quest today at Laurel Park. The 6-year-old mare is the heavy favorite in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, a seven-furlong stakes for females.

The Barbara Fritchie counterpart for males, the $200,000 General George Handicap, will be Monday. The Grade II stakes make up Winter SprintFest, the most important weekend of winter racing in the state.

Bear Fan heads a field of 10 fillies and mares. Four are stabled in Maryland, including the possible second favorite, Sensibly Chic, and six have traveled from out of state (three from New York, and one each from Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Florida).

Bear Fan was flown Tuesday to Maryland from South Florida, where she finished second three weeks ago in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

That's the springboard Bear Fan's trainer and part-owner, Wesley Ward, used last year when the horse captured the Barbara Fritchie as the even-money favorite and then ran off three more stakes wins.

Two of those were Grade II races at Belmont Park in which Bear Fan annihilated her opposition. But she missed the race that might have made her a household name among racing fans.

Bear Fan was entered against Azeri, 2002 Horse of the Year, in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. Ward had to scratch Bear Fan at the last minute because of a cracked hoof. Azeri proved to be vulnerable in the seven-furlong test, losing by a head to Mayo On The Side.

"I'd have won that race," Ward said, meaning, of course, that Bear Fan would have won it.

Ward has even bigger plans for Bear Fan this year. After her Maryland appearance, he plans on sending her to the Middle East for the $2 million Golden Shaheen, the richest sprint race in the world. She would compete against males for the first time.

The Ward-trained Men's Exclusive finished second and fourth in that race in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

His ultimate goal for Bear Fan is the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park. That would be Bear Fan's last race before retiring to life as a broodmare.

But first, there's this pesky little race called the Barbara Fritchie that Bear Fan will try to conquer for the second straight year. Since the race began in 1952, three horses have won back-to-back runnings: Too Bald in 1968 and 1969, Twixt in 1974 and 1975, and Xtra Heat in 2002 and 2003.

"We're expecting her to win," Ward said. "She couldn't be coming into the race any better. She's on edge right now. But anytime you go into a stakes, you've got to run."

Last year, Ward employed Ryan Fogelsonger, the local rider, to pilot Bear Fan in the Barbara Fritchie. This year, he's flying in the mare's regular rider, John Velazquez, recent winner of the Eclipse Award as last year's outstanding jockey.

Bear Fan has raced only 14 times despite this being her fourth season. Feet and ligament problems have kept her on the sidelines. When she's sound, as she is now, according to Ward, she's phenomenal. Bear Fan has won eight races (five were stakes), with four seconds and one third. She's earned $748,150 and set a track record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont.

Ward knew she was special from the start. He began her career in the spring of 2002 in a stakes at Hollywood Park. She won by four lengths.

"You could tell she was going to be a monster," Ward said. "She's a big, powerful, monster of a horse."

Ward, 37, is a former rider who won the Eclipse Award as top apprentice jockey in 1984. Why did he stop riding and begin training?

"I'm about 5-11 and 200 pounds right now," he said.

NOTE: Offlee Wild, making his first start since winning the Massachusetts Handicap last June and defeating Funny Cide, is the even-money early favorite in the $125,000, John B. Campbell Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Barbara Fritchie undercard. ... Post positions were drawn yesterday for the General George Handicap, which will feature the Scott Lake-trained Don Six, the 9-5 morning-line favorite.

Winter SprintFest

When: Today to Monday

Where: Laurel Park

Highlights: $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap today; $200,000 General George Handicap on Monday

Extras: Today, 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.

Monday's General George Handicap field

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds

1 Taste of Paradise Gary Mandella Jose Valdivia Jr. 8-1

2 Gators N Bears Leo Nechamkin II Ramon Dominguez 4-1

3 New York Hero Jennifer Pedersen Undecided 20-1

4 Saratoga County George Weaver Javier Castellano 3-1

5 Unforgettable Max Guadalupe Preciado Harry Vega 8-1

6 Don Six Scott Lake Mike Luzzi 9-5

7 Bocca Al Lupo Tim Tullock Jr. Mario Pino 20-1

8 Houston's Prayer Allen Iwinski Timothy Thornton 12-1

9 Private Horde Joe Cain Rodney Prescott 12-1

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