Smart 'n Noble continued her dominance of Laurel Park's winter filly and mare division when she defeated Buffels by a head yesterday in the $100,000 Snow Goose Handicap.
It's been a lucrative meet for the 4-year-old filly, who returned to action from a knee injury in December and has since won five of seven starts. She has collected nearly $250,000 in a four-month span and posted two graded stakes wins -- the Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap at seven furlongs and yesterday's Grade III Snow Goose Handicap at 1 1/8 miles.
"This win today means more to me than the Barbara Fritchie," said Stewart Nickel, who owns the horse in partnership with his mom, Pat, and brother, Steve. "She has now shown she can win short or long [distances], and she was also versatile enough to win on the grass [as a 2-year-old]."
However, Smart 'n Noble's command of the local distaff division might be severely tested during the coming Pimlico meet. In her next scheduled start, the $100,000 Geisha Handicap on April 22, she could face the 1994 Maryland-bred 3-year-old filly champion, Calipha. That filly developed bronchitis during a winter campaign in Florida, but works five furlongs at Laurel this morning. If all goes well, "we'll go in the Geisha, and I'm not worried about Smart' n Noble," said the horse's trainer, Bud Delp.
The Geisha could pit brother against brother. Smart 'n Noble is trained by Bud's older brother, Dick.
But for now, the Nickels and Dick Delp are content to savor their extremely productive winter.
Their filly stopped a potential three-stakes win streak yesterday for Canadian trainer Roger Attfield. Attfield won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct with Talkin Man and the Widener Handicap at Hialeah Park with Alybro just before the Snow Goose, where he sent out favored Hey Hazel.
Hey Hazel never fired, finishing sixth in the seven-horse field, and made the victory all the more satisfying for Delp and the Nickels. Not only was the more accomplished Hey Hazel receiving weight concessions from Smart 'n Noble, but Smart 'n Noble's regular jockey, Mario Pino, had taken off the filly to ride Hey Hazel, a move which still perplexes her connections.
Steve Nickel described it as "weird" yesterday. But he said his family harbors no ill feelings toward Pino and hopes he rides Smart 'n Noble again.
L "He's been extremely loyal to us with this horse," he added.
Larry Reynolds substituted for Pino yesterday and said he was impressed with Smart 'n Noble's gameness in her stretch duel with Buffels. Smart 'n Noble was tiring, he said, when Buffels came back at her near the wire, but she still hung on.
"I'm used to this kind of fight with Buffels from riding Miss Slewpy," Reynolds said. "That's the only question I had -- was Smart 'n Noble game enough to beat her? And she proved that she is."
Smart 'n Noble's winter campaign was made easier after owner Oliver Goldsmith gave Miss Slewpy an extended vacation. A suspected hock fracture became a serious problem after the filly won the Maryland Racing Writers' Handicap on Jan. 29. Miss Slewpy is being given three months' rest and isn't expected to race again until late summer or fall.
NOTES: Jockey Albert Delgado said 1994's Maryland-bred 2-year-old champ, Oliver's Twist, will be in the lineup at Laurel on Saturday in the $50,000 Private Terms Stakes. In his last start, the colt was fifth in the Florida Derby.