Following a sophomore season that saw him travel around the country to compete on some of racing's biggest days, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing's Grade 2 winner Still Having Fun will face an accomplished field of 13 rivals for his return to Maryland in Saturday's $250,000 General George (G3) at Laurel Park.
The 43rd running of the General George for 4-year-olds and up and the 67th renewal of the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3) for fillies and mares 4 and older, both at seven furlongs, co-headline a 10-race Winter Carnival program that features five stakes worth $800,000 in purses.
A trio of $100,000 stakes are also on tap – the one-mile Miracle Wood presented by Blackwell Real Estate for 3-year-olds and Wide Country at about 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies, and the 1 1/8-mile John B. Campbell presented by Fidelity First for 4-year-olds and up.
First race post time is 12:30 p.m.
In addition to live racing, Saturday's program will include ice sculptures, an ice carving demonstration, an ice wall with $3,000 in prizes and Tech Glove giveaway with program purchase, while supplies last.
Still Having Fun won back-to-back stakes at Laurel last winter to begin his sophomore season, the Frank Whiteley Jr. and Miracle Wood, staying local when stretched out for the Private Terms and Federico Tesio, finishing off the board each time. He was cut back to a sprint for the Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness (G1) undercard, running second to Mitole, who freaked by 6 ¼ lengths over the sloppy surface.
Encouraged by the effort, trainer Tim Keefe shipped him to Belmont Park for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) on Belmont Stakes (G1) day, where Still Having Fun rallied from far back to post a 13-1 upset. He was winless in five subsequent starts, including fifth in the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) on the Travers (G1) undercard at Saratoga and Cherokee Run Stakes during the Breeders' Cup program at Churchill Downs, both at seven furlongs.
“It was like no other year I've had … not because he's a horse that's made half a million dollars, but he's a horse that everything he does he seems to enjoy. He's taken me to all the big races,” Keefe said. “He took me to Preakness Day, he took me to Belmont Day, to Travers Day to the Breeders' Cup, to the little track out in Ohio I never would have gone to before. And to cap off his year out in California … it was definitely something I haven't done before.
“This is the first time I've had a horse … that I can take to different places outside of Maryland and not be 20-1, and have a realistic shot of running a huge race for us,” he added. “It was great. He logged a little over 10,000 miles of traveling last year, and it doesn't faze him. It absolutely doesn't faze him. He's got a great mental capacity. He takes care of himself.”
Still Having Fun wrapped up last season running third in the six-furlong Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley and seven-furlong Malibu (G1), the latter behind McKinzie, Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. All 11 of his 2018 starts, which included three wins and $472,200 in purse earnings, came exclusively against 3-year-olds.
“It's kind of a different ballgame running against 3-year-olds. The class of older horses is always tough. It'll be interesting to see how he can step up to handle the older horses,” Keefe said. “I'm glad everything worked out last year. Knock on wood, he's healthy. Everything seems great.
“I love having the fact that I can run him right here at home. I've always said that I love walking right out of the stall. I know he likes the track here, although he hasn't shown me any track that he really doesn't like too much,” he added. “I'm excited to have him here and see what he can do. It's a little, I don't want to say nerve-wracking but it's just whether or not he's going to be good enough to compete now with the older horses.”
California-based rider Flavien Prat, in town to ride Adam Wachtel's recently purchased Grade 1 winner Spiced Perfection in the Barbara Fritchie, has the call on Still Having Fun from Post 6 at 122 pounds, a weight he shares with 2018 Fall Highweight (G3) winner Life in Shambles, who drew Post 8.
Stronach Stables' multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Something Awesome is entered to defend his title in the General George, the first graded win for both horse and trainer Jose Corrales. Something Awesome finished a troubled 10th last out in North America's richest race, the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, contested at 1 1/8 miles.
“It's a little short from his last run, but the horse has come back in really good form,” Corrales said. “He'll have to get warmed up a little bit more before the race, but I think he can be there close and I think he can make it. He'll be fine.
“In the Pegasus, the horse came for the last five-sixteenths and was making a good move and got squeezed in between two horses and did not finish the way he can finish,” he added. “To me, the horse was not tired. I think maybe it took the air out of him. You're competing with the best horses in the country and any little thing that happen in the trip is going to take away from what you can do.”
Hall of Famer Edgar Prado will be up again on Something Awesome from Post 13 at topweight of 124 pounds. After last year's victory, the 8-year-old Awesome Again gelding won the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at Laurel and the Charles Town Classic (G2) last April, his most recent win.
“The General George was special because it was my first graded-stakes win and I got to win a stakes for the Stronachs at their racetrack,” Corrales said. “The other thing was my nephew [Elvis Trujillo] was riding and my mother was here for it, so it made it even more special.”
Hillside Equestrian Meadows' Laki has had more success at Laurel than anyone in the General George field, with seven wins, three seconds and a third from 12 lifetime tries for trainer Damon Dilodovico. The leading older sprinter in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship Series last year, 6-year-old Laki exits a three-quarter-length loss when third in the six-furlong Dave's Friend Dec. 29.
The Dave's Friend came just three weeks after Laki returned from an 11-week break between starts with a sharp half-length triumph in the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial Stakes Dec. 8. Prior to that, he hadn't run since finishing a decisive second behind Switzerland in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) in September.
“I think we definitely benefit from the home course,” Dilodovico said. “He's doing very good. I kind of feel like maybe I rushed him into the last race. He had run so well early in the month and it just seemed like he came out of the previous race so well, [but] maybe I ran him back too quick and it showed in the race. It wasn't like him to give that kind of effort. We just let him regroup. He's been training very well for us. We got a nice little breeze into him the other day and he came out of it well. Hopefully we can get him back to the form where he was last fall.”
Laki will carry 120 pounds including jockey Horacio Karamanos from Post 7.
Rising Sun Racing Stables' Colonel Sharp put together successive wins to complete his 2018 campaign, beating Something Awesome in an open seven-furlong allowance in November and springing a mild upset with his head victory over five-time stakes winner Altissimo in the Dave's Friend. Winner of the Maryland Coalition Stakes last summer at Timonium, he began his 6-year-old season running fifth in the seven-furlong Toboggan (G3) Jan. 19 at Aqueduct.
The General George will be the first graded-stakes start for Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum's Uncontested since the six-furlong Phoenix (G2) in October 2017. Winner of the 2017 Smarty Jones Stakes and briefly on the Triple Crown trail, he was third in the Pat Day Mile (G3) that spring for trainer Wayne Catalano.
Uncontested earned his first victory in more than a year when he returned from a 9 ½-month gap between starts with a front-running five-length triumph in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Dec. 23 at Laurel, his first start for trainer Jennifer Patterson. In 2013, Patterson gained national recognition for her work as the exercise rider of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Orb.
“We knew he'd run a good race, we just weren't sure how good it was going to be,” Patterson said. “We're kind of hoping the same things fall into place. He's got such good speed and he can clip off pretty good fractions and doesn't get too tired. We kind of hope it can be that way again. It's not going to be an easy race but it's a stakes race, they're not supposed to be easy. But, he's doing really well.”
Trevor McCarthy rides Uncontested back from Post 3.
Hillwood Stables' Cordmaker will be stepping up into graded company for the first time off an impressive 3 ¼-length victory in the one-mile Jennings Stakes Dec. 29 at Laurel. In his last two tries at seven furlongs he was fifth, beaten three lengths, in the City of Laurel Stakes Nov. 10 and second by a head after breaking through the gate in an optional claiming allowance just 12 days later.
“This horse run a beautiful race the last time. He impressed me and he seems to be training as good now as he was then, so I'd like to give the horse a shot,” trainer Rodney Jenkins said. “I think the horse is coming all the time. I think he's a horse that's on the improve. If he can put up a good showing, we'd be happy.”
Alex Cintron, up for the Jennings, will be back aboard in Post 12.
Jeff Drown's Home Run Maker takes a three-race win streak into the General George, all going six furlongs at Laurel, the latest a half-length victory up the rail in the Jan. 12 Fire Plug Stakes. He has won three of his four starts since joining New York-based trainer Jeremiah Englehart's Maryland string, the only loss by a head when third in an open allowance in his local debut last September.
“He's been a horse that's put a few races together now, kind of like we thought he was going to do as a 2-year-old. He's just matured well and when he started winning I guess he started liking what he was doing,” Englehart said. “He's been a pretty nice horse to have around the barn. He's just been very honest every time.”
Jorge Vargas Jr. is named to ride from Post 2.
Cash is King's It's Good to Be Us has also won three straight races heading into his stakes debut in the General George. A maiden winner going one mile last May in his second career start, the 4-year-old Tapit colt has won each of his last two starts, both at seven furlongs and each as the favorite, the latter from a 6 ½-month layoff. He will be racing away from Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Servis' Parx base for the first time.
“He's a real nice horse that's had a lot of issues. We've had to stop and give him time quite a few times. He didn't even come to the racetrack until he was a 3-year-old. They had to stop on him a few times on the farm, nothing super-major just little things that kept popping up,” Servis said. “But, he's got a lot of talent. It's by far the toughest group he's hooked into, but he does it the right way.
“The race the other day, which was his first race back off a long layoff, he did all the heavy lifting. He was head and head for the lead every step of the way, and then as soon he shook that horse off another horse hooked him,” he added, “but, he's got the talent and he's got the want. The jock even said he could feel him getting a little tired and when that horse ran up to him late, he just swelled up and dug in. He wasn't going to get beat.”
Aboard last out, Frankie Pennington gets a return call from Post 9.
Also entered are 2018 Tom Fool (G3) runner-up Do Share, second to Uncontested at Laurel off an 8 ½-month layoff; 2018 City of Laurel Stakes winner Majestic Dunhill; Long May You Run, a 16-time winner making his 51st career start; and Claudio Gonzalez-trained Moe Trouble and multiple stakes-placed Rockinn On Bye, second in his last three outings, including behind Laki in the Bender and Cordmaker in the Jennings.
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