The bettors paid him little mind, making Fred Bear Claw the fourth choice in a field of eight contesting the $54,300 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap yesterday at Laurel Park.
But the Salutely horse continued his recent surge, winning for the fifth time in his past six starts with a game decision over the rallying Eastern Daydream.
"He really likes the cold weather," said owner-trainer Archie Smith after his horse won by about four lengths. "As soon as the weather changes, so does he. The summertime races just take too much out of him. He acts completely different in the fall and winter.
"He's big at 5 years old, but still pretty immature."
Jockey Larry Reynolds stalked the pace set by Running Copelan for three-quarters of a mile, then took over at the head of the stretch. Fred Bear Claw drew clear before the sixteenth pole, then had enough to fend off a late challenge by co-favored Eastern Daydream.
The winning time for 1 3/16 miles was 1 minute, 56 3/5 seconds over a wet fast surface.
"They tried him on grass, but he never got anything together," Reynolds said of Fred Bear Claw. "Archie told me to lay off the speed, and my horse took me to the lead when he wanted to. I knew Running Copelan was going to have an easy lead, and I knew I could sit off him in a slow tempo. The race set up perfectly for me."
Smith said Fred Bear Claw will run through the spring, take the summer off and return to prepare for the Maryland Million in the fall.
SprintFest weights set
Weights were assigned yesterday for Laurel's SprintFest, which includes the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Saturday and the $250,000 General George Handicap next Monday.
Stop Traffic, the California mare who won the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap on Jan. 23, received the top impost of 122 pounds for the Fritchie, a seven-furlong test for older females. New York-based Catinca, who has won four straight, was right behind with 121 pounds, and Harpia, also on a four-race streak, drew 120.
For the George, the top weight of 121 was assigned to Run Man Run, a Grade I winner two starts ago at Santa Anita. El Amante and Say Florida Sandy each received 118. Entries will be drawn Wednesday.
Sylvestor Questor, a gelding by Norquestor, sold for $46,000 to top the annual winter mixed sale held by Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yesterday at the Timonium sales pavilion. He was purchased by Danielle Bishop Stables.
Two mares -- a Java Gold in foal to Silver Ghost and a Private Terms in foal to Two Punch -- each brought $37,000 during a sale that grossed $867,900 with an average price of $5,885.
A total of 149 horses was sold, with the average sale price up 17 percent from last year.
Fasig-Tipton vice president Mason Grasty said that about 25 percent of the sales were made by phone and that "we transmitted a sale over the Internet for the first time. We had about 50 call in."
Golden Eagle Farm in California will hold a ceremony March 9 to honor Best Pal, who earned more than $5.6 million during a seven-year racing career. He died of a heart attack in November at the age of 10. Best Pal won six Grade I stakes and was second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. The farm is asking fans with any Best Pal memories to send them via mail (2723 Highway 78 East, Ramona, CA 92065) or e-mail (Gfarms@ix.netcom.com). Apprentice Joe Rocco Jr. won with his first career mount at Tampa Bay Downs last week. Rocco is the son of the longtime Maryland veteran who scored his first career win at Tampa 20 years ago and is third at the current Tampa meet.
Pub Date: 2/08/99