Royale Michele dashed to victory in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park yesterday, chasing down the leaders in the stretch and holding off the comeback attempt of the pre-race favorite who had reared at the gate.
The winning 4-year-old filly crossed the finish line 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Seventh Street, who went off at 4-5 and had won three straight races at Aqueduct but left her feet at the start of the $150,000, Grade II race and was running last. Fascinatin' Rhythm was third in the seven-horse field.
Royale Michele, with Geovany Garcia riding, was fourth at the top of the stretch, chasing By the Light and Access Fee, who were in an early duel.
"My trainer told me to just let them kill their speed on the lead and just sit behind. ... She made a beautiful move," said Garcia, who won his first stakes race. Trained by Matt Kintz, Royale Michele paid $22.20.
Garcia said he was aware that Seventh Street had recovered and was in pursuit. "The way that my filly closed, I don't think that he can catch me," Garcia said.
Kintz said his horse was helped by the fact that she was shipped from West Virginia to the Maryland track 10 days before the Fritchie and has been training here.
Seventh Street jockey Rajiv Maragh said that when his horse jumped as the gate opened, "it felt like we were 10 feet in the air."
"You have to be a special horse to even get back in the race," Maragh said of Seventh Street. "It would have been special to finish first in this race, but to almost win it is unbelievable."
Laurel Park will hold another Grade II race tomorrow, the $150,000 General George Handicap, a seven-furlong sprint.
In another feature race yesterday, the $50,000 John B. Campbell Handicap, Richard's Kid came from far behind and stormed to victory by a length over favorite Bullsbay. And in keeping with the date, Emma's Valentine, a 4-year-old filly, won the eighth race, a $30,000 allowance, paying $8.20.
Richard's Kid, ridden by apprentice Jenna Joubert and trained by local trainer Dickie Small, came from 19 lengths back to win the 1 1/8 -mile race paying $23.80. Second-place Bullsbay was followed by P V Lightening.
It was Joubert's first stakes victory. She said that even when Richard's Kid was running last, she was confident of winning. She let Richard's Kid fall into his stride and took him wide going into the stretch so he would have a clear gallop.
"The more distance for him, the better," Joubert said of the 4-year-old colt. "You have to completely let him do his own thing."