Two horses - and one jockey - descended on Laurel Park yesterday in hopes of restoring luster to their reputations. Two of the three did. The other was lucky to get out alive.
Evening Attire, one of the most accomplished horses to race at Laurel in years, was nearly knocked over the inside rail as he tried to surge to victory in the John B. Campbell Handicap. His body twisting and legs churning, he managed to stay on his feet but lost any chance of winning. The 2-5 favorite finished third, but was elevated to second when the horse - and rider - who nearly felled him were found to be at fault.
Bear Fan, a hard-luck mare from California stuck in a four-race losing streak, finally got a good trip and good luck. She captured the Barbara Fritchie Handicap and ensured her rider, Ryan Fogelsonger, who had flown in from California overnight, a triumphant homecoming and a jump-start to a stalled career.
Fogelsonger, 22, won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey in 2002 while riding in Maryland. Last summer, he relocated to California and performed well. But in December, when his mount stumbled, he was thrown to the ground and tore a tendon in his right shoulder. He began riding again last month, but found he had lost crucial connections. He decided to return to Maryland.
He flew home overnight Friday and landed in Maryland at 8:15 a.m. yesterday. He drove straight to Wal-Mart to buy a face mask and gloves, and then continued on to Laurel. He acknowledged he was exhausted.
"But the energy of being back just raised me up," he said, flashing his familiar exuberant smile. "This makes me happy being home in Maryland."
He won with his first mount back, Breanna's Smile, in the second race, and then won the Grade II, $200,000 Barbara Fritchie with a horse who had also come from California in search of a lift.
After winning her first four races and losing her next four, Bear Fan ventured to Laurel for her first race outside her home state. Fogelsonger kept her wide, out of trouble and happy, and Bear Fan responded with a one-length victory at even money.
"She's the kind of horse you can't fight," said Blake Heap, assistant to Wesley Ward, Bear Fan's trainer. "If you try to take hold of her, she'll fight you. That's just her way. If horses come up to her, she'll try to kick or bite them."
Fogelsonger didn't nudge her until they turned for home. She surged to a three-length lead and then held off two game Maryland mares - Gazillion, who rallied for second, and Bronze Abe, who held on for third.
When Bear Fan scored in the Barbara Fritchie, the patrons at Laurel were still buzzing over the mishap involving Evening Attire. Based at Belmont Park, the 6-year-old gelding entered the John B. Campbell Handicap with earnings of $1,974,990. A winner of six graded stakes, including the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2002, Evening Attire towered over his opposition.
After breaking from the 2 post in the 1 1/8 -mile race, he lumbered leisurely along the rail under his New York jockey, Shaun Bridgmohan. They remained trapped inside until turning for home. Bridgmohan spotted a slim opening between the rail and Rogue Agent, the pacesetter, and tried to slip through.
Rogue Agent's jockey, Norberto Arroyo Jr., another New York rider, pulled his horse's head toward the inside and whipped him right-handed, forcing him in even more. Evening Attire slammed into the rail, nearly falling.
Ole Faunty, a Kentucky-based gelding, surged past both horses and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Rogue Agent finished second, but the track stewards dropped him to third and elevated Evening Attire to second. The $30,000 runner-up money pushed his earnings to $2,004,990.
"I had position there, and once he started to come inside, my horse hesitated," Bridgmohan said. "When that happened, we had no chance."
Despite being penalized by the stewards, Arroyo accepted no blame.
"The two horse [Evening Attire] tried to go through a hole that wasn't there," he said. "Sometimes when you try to do that, you get squeezed."
NOTE: The Maryland Jockey Club announced yesterday that, beginning today, it will prohibit the TVG network from accepting bets on and televising races from Laurel and Pimlico Race Course. A federal judge in Baltimore ruled Friday that the MJC could pull its races from TVG.