Fritchie, General George top festival
The Laurel Park Winter Festival has been consolidated from two days to one this year and will be held Saturday. The six stakes have traditionally been split between the Saturday and Monday of Presidents Day weekend.
The card will be anchored by the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and the Grade 3 General George. The festival also includes four $75,000 stakes, two for 3-yearolds and two for older runners.
In the past two years, the Winter Festival has lived up to its name and been held in frigid, testing conditions. As of Monday, it looked like Laurel might catch a break, with the forecast calling for a sunny day with a high of 60 degrees.
The Saturday card will be streamed on DRF.com.
The $300,000 Fritchie, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares, had five definite starters as of Monday, with other interested parties considering their options.
High Ridge Road, trained by Linda Rice, and By the Moon, who races for Michelle Nevin, are both pointing to the race. High Ridge Road defeated By the Moon by a half-length Dec. 31 in the one-mile Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at Laurel.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin swept the Fritchie exacta last year with Dancing House and Clothes Fall Off. He is expected to run two horses again this year, with Clothes Fall Off probable and Takrees and Indulgent possible.
Clothes Fall Off weakened to finish fifth in the Interborough Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 22 while making her first start in nine months. Takrees closed from the clouds to win the Interborough by a neck. Indulgent, a half-sister to Frosted, has won three straight races.
Trainer Claudio Gonzalez, who leads the winter-meet trainer standings at Laurel, has been pointing Sweet On Smokey to the Fritchie since she won the What a Summer Stakes on Jan. 14.
The $250,000 General George, a seven-furlong race for 4-yearolds and up, looks to have a solid favorite in Stallwalkin’ Dude, who has been in sharp form since last summer for trainer David Jacobson.
A winner of 17 of 49 starts, the 7-year-old Stallwalkin’ Dude won the Grade 3 Bold Ruler at Belmont Park in October and has since won the Gravesend at Aqueduct and been beaten a neck in both the Toboggan and Fall Highweight there.
Other General George probables include Heaven’s Runway, who in his last two starts has won the Fall Highweight and the Dave’s Friend at Laurel; Imperial Hint, winner of the Fire Plug on Jan. 14; and Classy Class, Grasshoppin, and Never Gone South.
Page McKenney between races
Trainer Mary Eppler said Sunday she intends to crossenter Page McKenney in the General George and the John B. Campbell, a 1 1/8-mile race at Laurel on Saturday.
“I haven’t decided where he is going to run,” Eppler said. “I want to take a look at both races before I decide.”
Eppler used the same strategy last year and opted for the General George, which Page McKenney won by a head over Majestic Affair. The situation is different this year, however, as Page McKenney had a string of races under his belt at this point in 2016 but just recently won his comeback race following a ninemonth injury-related layoff.