The California faction may have been dissuaded by Catinca's presence in today's $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park, but Burning Daylight Farms hasn't backed off.
With a substantial break in the weights for both horses, Burning Daylight and trainer A. Ferris Allen III are hoping that one of their "Trouble Twins" can spring an upset of the probable favorite, who arrived from Florida for the Grade II showdown for fillies and mares.
The capable Palette Knife and Passeggiata are each coming off victories and, despite being an entry, they will probably will be good values on the tote board.
"I don't see anybody being favored over Catinca," Allen said of the filly who has won four straight impressively, three in graded stakes. "She's probably the reason this race is not any fuller.
"I think some others who had to ship for this race didn't want to take a look at her. But I felt my horses needed to be here. It made sense. All I can say is she [Catinca] hasn't run since November. I hope there's some reason for that."
Laurel officials were hoping to attract several California heavyweights, particularly Stop Traffic, the mare who won the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap in her last outing Jan. 23. It didn't happen.
So, Biding Time, a runaway winner at Aqueduct on Jan. 23, and the local entry appear to have the best shots at Catinca.
"For this kind of money, it isn't easy," said Allen, who has developed into one of the perennial front-runners in the Maryland-Virginia trainers' standings. "We're fortunate that the California horses didn't come."
The trainer said it has become a "joke around the barn" about whether Palette Knife or Passeggiata is training better for the Fritchie, a seven-furlong test that honors the memory of the Civil War legend from Frederick.
"Both horses are doing so well," Allen said. "The exercise rider [Serge Pradenas] can't decide which is which. But Passeggiata appears to have a little edge."
A 6-year-old mare by Samoan, Passeggiata beat Palette Knife by 1 1/4 lengths in the Francis Scott Key Stakes last month, but there were extenuating circumstances.
"We used Palette Knife to soften the pace a little and make sure it was legitimate," Allen said. "Edgar [Prado] eased her off, then asked her to run again. So, we gave her a confidence-builder [an easy win under $34,000 allowance conditions] between that race and the Fritchie.
"I've had her the whole career," said Allen, who trains the Eastern division of Arthur Watson Jr.'s Burning Daylight stable. "She had some ankle problems before she made the races. She is booked [to be bred] to Touch Gold. I'm hoping they change their mind about that."
A 6-year-old Broad Brush mare, Palette Knife figures to be within a couple of lengths of the early leader.
Conversely, the Argentine-bred Passeggiata waits, then zooms.
"She is the typical grand closing sprinter," Allen said. "Hopefully, she'll be in high gear coming through the lane."
Assistant trainer Laura Dennis has had a lot to do with the preparations of the two horses, who have earned nearly $650,000 combined.
Allen's stable has about 40 horses quartered at Laurel and is "fairly deep." This is a major weekend for most of the stars, with Hot Salsa running in the Rare Treat Stakes and Seven Pipers in the Whirlaway, both at Aqueduct this weekend.
Despite finishing in a tie with Hamilton Smith for the trainer title at Colonial Downs, Allen described his fall performance as "a little bit stale. We've had a lot of seconds and thirds that should be wins. But January was sensational."
NOTE: Laurel's top jockeys will sign autographs from 11: 15 a.m. to 12: 15 p.m. today in the clubhouse. Early attendees will be admitted to the clubhouse free, and coffee and doughnuts will be served.
Pub Date: 2/13/99