If George Washington had met Barbara Fritchie, he would have liked her pluck. Stonewall Jackson did.
According to legend, the 96-year-old Fritchie waved the Union flag from her Frederick home as Jackson and his Confederate troops passed in 1862 on their way to Harpers Ferry. Impressed by the old woman's verve, Jackson ordered that she and the flag not be harmed.
At Laurel Park this holiday weekend, Washington and Fritchie meet -- in a manner of speaking -- with the running today of the Barbara Fritchie Handicap and Monday of the General George Handicap.
Both races wave flashy purses of $200,000. And both are Grade II.
In all of 1997, Maryland tracks will feature only six Grade II and two Grade I stakes (the Grade I's are the Preakness and Pimlico Special). Gradings signify quality, so the Maryland Jockey Club calls this Winter SprintFest. Both races are seven-furlong events.
Feeling less than festive yesterday was Secret Prospect, the local favorite. She was suffering from what trainer John J. Tammaro III called "a little bellyache." But a little bellyache in a big horse translates into colic, and that required treatment with drugs and forced Tammaro to scratch Secret Prospect from the Barbara Fritchie.
That means nine of the remaining 12 starters come from out of state, including the four top contenders.
The morning-line favorite at 2-1 is Miss Golden Circle, stabled at Belmont Park and trained by John C. Kimmel, who will spend the day in Florida. His Montjoy races in the $150,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap.
"She's the class of the field," Kimmel said of Miss Golden Circle, a 5-year-old chestnut with 20 top-three finishes in 24 starts. "And I think she's really crack at seven furlongs."
In her last race, the six-furlong Berlo Handicap three weeks ago at Aqueduct Park, Miss Golden Circle finished second to Dancin Renee, who also starts in the Barbara Fritchie. But Kimmel pointed out that was his mare's first race in two months and that Dancin Renee had all things in her favor: the shorter distance and an uncontested lead on a speed-biased track.
Robert Triola, the trainer of Dancin Renee, finds that assessment a bit curious. He said he expects Dancin Renee, stabled at Aqueduct, to run even better.
Although she's 5 years old, she has raced only 12 times, never finishing worse than third (seven wins, five thirds). She has overcome numerous injuries and ailments, Triola said.
"Right now, she's the picture of health," Triola added. "So in one respect, with only 12 races, she's the fresh horse."
Vanning in from Belmont to defend her Fritchie crown is 7-year-old Lottsa Talc. She will carry the most weight, 119 pounds, even though she has not won in four races.
But she is the field's only millionaire with earnings of $1.2 million -- more than twice any foe. She has won one-third of her races, 21 out of 63, and placed or showed in another third.
"As with any horse, age is always a concern," said her trainer, Timothy D. Kelly. "But she's got some life left in her. She's fit and ready to run. Maybe lightning will strike twice."
Graceful Minister ships in from Kentucky's Turfway Park. Her trainer, Paul J. McGee, conditioned horses in Maryland during the late 1980s. The winner of three of her last five, Graceful Minister is a daughter of Cagey Exuberance, who finished fourth in the Barbara Fritchie in 1989.
This weekend at Laurel Park
Today: The $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, a Grade II, seven-furlong dash for fillies and mares, is the first half of Winter SprintFest. Nine out-of-state entries, including early favorite Miss Golden Circle, challenge three local horses. Secret Prospect was scratched yesterday with a stomach ailment. Rescheduled because of last Saturday's inclement weather, the $60,000 Jameela Stakes will feature seven 3-year-old fillies, all born in Maryland. Assault John is the highweight, but Weather Vane, a daughter of Willard Scott, parts wind on the rail.
Fritchie field: From the rail out with weights, jockeys and odds: Nappelon, 109, Leon, 8-1; Red Hot Iron, 114, Black, 12-1; Substantial, 109, Pino, 20-1; Dancin Renee, 115, Luzzi, 6-1; Norstep, 111, Hamilton, 20-1; Shebatim's Trick, 113, Prado, 12-1; Lottsa Talc, 119, Nelson, 6-1; Special Brush, 112, Butler, 20-1; Graceful Minister, 113, Johnson, 8-1; Whaleneck, 110, Leon, 8-1; Miss Golden Circle, 118, Migliore, 2-1; North Hall Betty, 110, Verge, 21-1.
Tomorrow: The $50,000 Landaura Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, showcases three young ladies with nary a racing blemish (in other words, unbeaten): Art Student, Proud Run and The Great Bullet.
Monday: The first-rate sprinter Appealing Skier ships in from Ben W. Perkins Sr.'s barn at Gulfstream Park for the second half of SprintFest, the $200,000 General George Handicap, also Grade II at seven furlongs. Waiting in ambush are hometown favorites Romano Gucci and Mary's Buckaroo.
Pub Date: 2/15/97