J.D. Acosta rode Sweet Goodbye to victory in the Barbara Fritchie… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
Christopher Grove had been thinking about President's Day weekend for months.
The Frederick trainer was confident that he had two horses -- Greenspring and Sweet Goodbye -- who could win a Grade II Stakes race, and so every move he made in the months prior to the holiday weekend was made with the Barbara Fritchie Handicap and the General George Handicap in mind.
Then the snow tried to ruin everything. His horses couldn't train at his training center in Bowie, and he couldn't sleep. The Fritchie was postponed, and rescheduled to run on the same day as the General George. The snow kept falling. Grove paced the floor until he couldn't stand it any longer, then sat in front of the television like a zombie watching re-runs of Cheers on his DVR.
"I just kept thinking 'Hurry up and stop so we can start training.' And it just never stopped," Grove said. "From last Friday until today, I bet I haven't slept 40 hours total. I was up all night worrying about these horses."
It's a safe bet he'll sleep better this week. Both Grove's horses were victorious Monday in the two biggest races of the day.
Greenspring dominated the $150,000 General George, setting a track record for seven furlongs despite swirling snowflakes, finishing a length and a half ahead of Digger after the two horses ran close for most of the race.
And Sweet Goodbye, a Maryland-bred filly, won the Fritchie by a head over three other horses. She hung back for the first part of the race, then wove through traffic and made a late charge to edge ahead of Pamona Ball and Cuvee Uncorked at the wire. Grove pumped his fist and received several hearty hugs from friends when the official results were posted.
"Big weekend, huh?" Grove joked afterward. "I'm glad that snowstorm came, I guess. ... What a feeling. The two biggest horses in the barn win the two biggest races in Maryland this year."
The 40-year-old Grove, who was the fourth-leading Maryland trainer last year, even ate at the Barbara Fritchie Restaurant Sunday night for good luck.
"To win the Fritchie is extra special, because Barbara Fritchie is an icon in Frederick," Grove said of the historical figure. Fritchie, according to legend, defiantly waved a Union flag, at age 90, at Confederate troops as they tried to pass through Fredrick during the Civil War.
The victory by Greenspring, who is owned by Our Chelsea Stable and ridden by jockey Jeremy Rose, wasn't much of a surprise. The 5-year-old, who paid $4.40, has won six of eight races under Grove, and was undefeated at Laurel in two previous races.
Rose was so confident in the horse, he flew up from Florida, where he's spending the winter racing season this year, just for this race.
"He's an amazing horse," Rose said. "He set a track record and he missed a week of training. Imagine what he could have done. The weather wasn't a problem. The track was just getting a little hard to get a hold of. That tells you how good of a horse he is."
Grove has such confidence in Greenspring, he said he feels the stallion is even better than Silmaril, a horse Grove trained who won 12 stakes races during his career and finished with $1,032,973 in earnings.
"He does everything very easy just like Silmaril," Grove said. "He's really smart. He was standing in paddock after he got the saddle, looking at the other horses like he was sizing up the competition."
Sweet Goodbye's victory, however, was a bit more of a surprise. Hour Glass went off as a 2-to-1 favorite, with Weathered and Cuvee Uncorked also expected to contend. But Sweet Goodbye, ridden by J.D. Acosta, laid back in the beginning and then surged around the final turn. Acosta weaved her through traffic and into position to sprint to the wire.
"We sat going around the turn and I asked her to pick it up," Acosta said. "She started to respond, but then I had to be careful because I wasn't exactly sure where I was going to go. We always go to the outside when she starts running, but I knew today I was going to have to find that spot inside. We got lucky and had room and I sent her right through. It was as tough a race as I've ever rode."
Gator Prowl easily won the $70,000 Marshua Stakes earlier in the day, dominating the field of 3-year-old fillies.
Redding Colliery set a track record in the $70,000 John B. Campbell Handicap, winning by four lengths.