He's racing for history

Trainer has special connection with race's namesake

February 17, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,[Sun Reporter]

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,

But spare your country's flag," she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,

Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred

To life at that woman's deed and word:

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head

Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

A portion of the poem "Barbara Frietchie" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Every stakes and handicap race has a name, and every once in a while one that means something to a participant. But it's unlikely anyone else gets quite as excited about the $300,000 Grade II Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap as trainer Chris Grove.

"Barbara Fritchie was from Frederick," Grove said of the American patriot who, legend has it, at age 95 stood up to Stonewall Jackson by waving the Union flag from an attic window when he and his troops marched through Frederick. "I grew up in Frederick. I still live in Frederick and I love Barbara Fritchie."

Now, a lot of people will tell you they love someone or something. But when Grove, 37, said it this week, he clearly meant it.

He's been spending his free time trying to memorize the Barbara Fritchie poem he learned in elementary school. If his horse, 5-2 early line favorite Silmaril, wins today, he wants to recite it - at least the most memorable eight lines of the 60-line poem penned by John Greenleaf Whittier in 1864 - in the Laurel Park winner's circle.

Yesterday, he picked up his children after school and hoped to make it to the Barbara Fritchie house before taking his family to the Barbara Fritchie restaurant last night for dinner.

"I'm trying to gather all the good luck from her that I can," Grove said. "When you're born and raised somewhere and you've never moved, your local history means a lot. Did you know Barbara Fritchie and Francis Scott Key held a memorial service in Frederick when George Washington died? And one of Silmaril's owners, Dr. Christopher Feifarek, has an actual picture of Barbara Fritchie, which he is going to bring to the race."

Good luck, in fact, could be the deciding factor today, as eight competitive fillies and mares are expected to go to the post.

"I've seen better horses show up for the Barbara Fritchie over the years, but what makes this race so good is all these horses are so evenly matched," said trainer Tony Dutrow, who has second favorite Smart and Fancy in the mix, and who will also saddle Oprah Winney and Carmandia for his younger brother Richard Dutrow Jr. The younger Dutrow began serving a 14-day suspension Thursday in New York.

"I respect Silmaril and several others in the race," Tony Dutrow said. "On a given day, several of these fillies could run a super race."

Both Grove and Dutrow, however, feel their fillies are ready to produce top performances.

Silmaril, who upset filly champion Ashado in the Grade III Pimlico Distaff in 2005, has won seven of 12 races at Laurel, while Smart and Fancy is three-for-four at the track.

"My horse is ready," Dutrow said. "There is no race scenario that I'd be hoping for. Smart and Fancy is going to run her race. It doesn't matter to us how it sets up, and I don't think it matters to Silmaril either."

Grove agreed. It doesn't matter. But, still, a little Barbara Fritchie luck would be welcomed. As for the poem, Grove said he has three of the eight lines down. Asked whether he might write the poem on the palm of his hand, in case he needs a little help in a post-race recital, he said no.

"That would be cheating," he said. "I just hope, if we make it to the winner's circle, I'm not too excited to recite it."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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