LAUREL -- East meets West in the first half of the new Winter SprintFest, and Ben Perkins Jr. said any of three Easterners are capable of surprising the California-based favorite, Devil's Orchid.
Perkins will saddle one of the three -- Hero's Hurrah -- in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares, which will be run two races before its male counterpart, the $200,000 General George Stakes, at Laurel Race Course today.
Devil's Orchid is 6-for-10 lifetime, but Perkins alluded to the disadvantages of shipping from the "springy" tracks of Southern California to an unfamiliar surface such as Laurel's.
"She's run against decent horses, but she's just coming out of conditioned races," said Perkins. "Fappaburst and Feel the Beat [both based in New York] have strong records, and they might be a little more accomplished and seasoned."
Hero's Hurrah, clearly the strongest of three Maryland runners in the 10-horse Fritchie, has improved dramatically in the past seven months, winning six of seven starts.
"She used to be a tall, skinny filly," Perkins said of the 5-year-old mare. "Now she's built like a house.
"She's been training great. She showed us she could rate in her last race, so I expect she'll be a length or two off the early lead."
In the General George, slight favoritism should go to Fire Plug or Profit Key. The race appears to be more contentious than the Fritchie; a victory by any of about four others would not necessarily be a shock.
NOTES: The weather is expected to be very cold today, but there is no precipitation forecast. "I foresee absolutely no circumstances for cancellation," said track president Joe De Francis. . . . Gimmick lovers, rejoice: There will be Triple wagering on both SprintFest races, and the General George ends the late Daily Double. . . . Julie Krone won't be at Laurel to ride today, as erroneously reported yesterday. Willie Clark, however, will drive from Charles Town to ride Loveable Guy in the third race. Clark, 69, is the nation's oldest rider. . . . Maryland-based 3-year-olds Dandy Danzig and Doctor Fish are entered in today's $100,000-added Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. Haymaker, perhaps Maryland's top Triple Crown candidate, was scheduled to run, but trainer Carlos Garcia did not enter him. "He'll wait for the Private Terms [March 3 at Laurel] instead," said Patrick "Pappy" Manuel, Garcia's assistant.