In part due to special holiday racing on Monday, Presidents' Day, there is a passel of graded stakes to be seen this weekend from coast to coast. Begin at Laurel Park on Saturday with the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, where under handicap conditions, Nicole H is ceding her seven opponents anywhere from two to 11 lbs. The daughter of Mr. Greeley is perfect in 2012, a winner of two stakes at Aqueduct. She's trained by Michael Hushion, who has another entry here, Lovely Lil.
Saturday's racing in South Florida includes the seven-furlong G2 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, led by the oldest of eight expected starters, Force Freeze, now a 7-year-old. From Peter Walder's barn, the son of Forest Camp spent all of 2010 and part of 2011 racing in the United Arab Emirates. Since coming back to the States last summer, he's given a good account of himself, winning the Teddy Drone at Monmouth, then placing in two Grade 1 events to end his season, including the Breeders' Cup Sprint, where he lost to Amazombie by just a neck. His main competition appears to be Capt. Candyman Can, off since a fourth-place finish in the Dec. 31 G3 Mr. Prospector.
Moving across the country to Southern California, Santa Anita is host to the G2 Santa Maria, where seven fillies and mares are expected to line up in the starting gate, including last year's winner, Vision in Gold. The Ron Ellis trainee raced just once more in 2011 before being given a prolonged rest. She returned to the track in the Jan. 15 Paseana, finishing far back, beaten by Ellafitz, also entered here, going for her third in a row. Great Hot has a good chance here; she's hit the board in two graded stakes starts since her off performance in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer has saddled a record five El Camino Real Derby winners and he'll have two chances in the 31st running of the Grade 3 stakes at Golden Gate Fields when he sends out front-running filly Lady of Fifty and closer Russian Greek. Lady of Fifty, looking to be the first female winner of this sophomore test, has been victorious in four of her five career races and swept a series of stakes for fillies at Golden Gate. Russian Greek has two stakes victories from his four starts. The son of Giant's Causeway most recently came from last to win the 1 1/16-mile California Derby and displayed the same stretch-running tactics to win the Gold Rush in December.
There are two graded stakes on Sunday—the G3 Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream and the G2 San Vicente at Santa Anita. Her Smile makes her 2012 debut for new connections in the Hurricane Bertie. Now owned by Stronach Stables and trained by Chad Brown, Her Smile was last saddled by Todd Pletcher for owner Bobby Flay in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she ran third.
The San Vicente will mark the season bow for Grade 1 winner Creative Cause, last year's third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Conditioned by Mike Harrington, the son of Giant's Causeway has proven at distances of five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and a win here would surely give him the upper hand going into the Santa Anita Derby. He will face Drill once more, who doesn't resemble the horse he was at Del Mar. Since finishing second in the Norfolk, Drill hasn't had a sniff, running off the board in four starts. A possible upsetter is American Act, an impressive 5 ½-furlong maiden winner.
The highlight of Monday racing will be the G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where there has been so much interest in this particular Derby prep that the race could be split into two divisions. Four Southern California-based sophomores have shipped in, including the Bob Baffert-trained Secret Circle, winner of the inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. The local hopeful here is Junebugred, recent winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Toby's Corner returns to the track on Monday in the G2 General George Handicap at Laurel. He was last seen on the Triple Crown Trail winning the G1 Wood Memorial, but an injury put him on the sidelines for the following 10 months. As unfortunate as that turn of events was, trainer Graham Motion was able to fulfill his Derby dreams with Animal Kingdom, who is also returning to the track this weekend (Saturday's 5th race at Gulfstream).
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