Fritchie Handicap paces big weekend at Laurel

The Baltimore Sun

Among the favorites in tomorrow's Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares at Laurel Park are a promising but largely untested 4-year-old coming in from New York, a speedster trying to protect the local turf and a veteran sprinter from Florida.

The Fritchie Handicap, a Grade II seven-furlong sprint with a $150,000 purse, is part of Laurel's biggest winter weekend, which will also feature the $50,000 John B. Campbell Handicap tomorrow and the General George Handicap, also a $150,000 Grade II seven-furlong race, Monday. The General George will feature Fabulous Strike, winner of eight of his past 11 starts.

In the eight-horse Fritchie field, the early favorite at 5-2 is Seventh Street, a 4-year-old chestnut filly who has been running at Aqueduct. Although she has just four career starts, Seventh Street has strung together three wins at the New York track. The Fritchie, though, is a major jump in class.

"She's always shown a lot of talent, and we've been bringing her along on easy street," said Art Magnusson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We've taken a couple of races to find tougher company, but she's ready."

In her victories, Seventh Street has shown enough speed to take the lead early and clobber the competition, but Magnusson doubts she'll be able to get that kind of jump against the Fritchie field, especially the local standard-bearer, Maryland-bred Access Fee, listed at 9-2.

"She won't take no for an answer as far as going to the front end is concerned," Access Fee's trainer, Larry Murray, said of his 4-year-old filly. "She may not break the fastest, but once she's out there, she wants to go to the front."

Access Fee has four wins in six career starts, with all the victories at Laurel. However, the seven-furlong Fritchie will be her longest test to date.

"The races that she has won, she's won fairly easily," Murray said. "So we really don't know where her bottom is yet."

A concern for Murray is the weather, with the chance for precipitation in the forecast. "She's never been on an off-track," he said.

The veteran in the field is Dream Rush, a 5-year-old mare who has been training in Florida and has eight wins in 15 starts. Dream Rush (3-1) was impressive as a 3-year-old in 2007, winning four races, all graded, but then tailed off.

As a younger horse, Dream Rush was mostly speed, but as she matures, trainer Will Phipps, who has been working with her since September, has tried to get her to relax earlier and come from off the pace. That's what she did in her past two wins in Tampa.

"She has a lot of speed, and we found that by switching her early on, we could let her conserve some of that natural speed and finish strong," Phipps said.

The cold shouldn't be an issue for Dream Rush, Phipps said, because she has done some of her best training through a spell of unseasonably cool weather in Florida.

Another strong contender is By the Light (4-1), trained by Rick Dutrow, trainer of Big Brown. The 4-year-old filly has eight wins in 12 starts and has been running mostly in New York for the past year.

The General George will have a six-horse field, with Fabulous Strike listed as the favorite at 4-5. The 6-year-old sprinter has been a consistent performer, mostly over six furlongs. In his lone seven-furlong outing in 2006, he finished fourth.

A local challenger is Eternal Star (9-2) trained by Mike Trombetta. Based at Laurel, Eternal Star won six of his nine starts last year, including four stakes races.

FRITCHIE HANDICAP

WHAT: $150,000 Grade II, seven furlongs, ninth of nine races

WHERE: Laurel Park

WHEN: Tomorrow: Fritchie post time: 4:52 p.m. First race post time: 12:35 p.m.

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