Having traveled as far as Louisiana and South Florida to run in graded company, multiple stakes winner Saguaro Row will make the short trip to Laurel Park for her next attempt in Saturday's $250,000 Grade 3 Runhappy Barbara Fritchie.
The 68th running of the Barbara Fritchie for fillies and mares four and older and the 44th renewal of the $250,000 G3 General George for 4-year-olds and up, both at seven furlongs, co-headline a 10-race Winter Carnival program that features five stakes worth $800,000 in purses.
Based with trainer Michael Stidham at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., about 90 minutes northeast of Laurel near the borders of both Pennsylvania and Delaware, 5-year-old Saguaro Row will be making just her 14th career start in the Fritchie.
Bred by Mark Breen and co-owned by Breen and Newtown Anner Stud, Saguaro Row has raced twice previously at Laurel, breaking her maiden in her debut in September 2017 and finishing third as the favorite, beaten a length after rallying from dead last early in the seven-furlong Shine Again Stakes last September.
“She's doing really well. She's at Fair Hill and she worked the other day and worked well. Everything looks good,” Stidham said. “We felt like horses that like those winter racetracks like she does, that's why we decided to keep her on the East Coast rather than bring her to the Fair Grounds.”
Saguaro Row spent the winter of 2018 in Louisiana, where she was sixth in the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks and didn't race again for nearly 13 months until winning an April 2019 allowance at Keeneland. Off the board in both the G3 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park and G2 Presque Isle Masters last summer and fall, she won the Nov. 9 Pumpkin Pie and Jan. 20 Interborough, both seven furlongs, and was second by 2 1/4 lengths to Grade 1 winner Spiced Perfection in the one-mile G3 Go for Wand Dec. 7, all at Aqueduct.
“Her last race set up well. [Jose] Lezcano was riding her for the first time and we told him what she prefers. He got her to settle early and then make a big sweeping run and she was impressive. She ran a lifetime top Ragozin [sheet number], so it was a great effort,” Stidham said. “Once we figured out that she was definitely better at one turn and got her limited to those kinds of races, she's gotten real consistent.”
In five lifetime tries at seven furlongs, Saguaro Row owns two wins, one second and one third. Jose Lezcano is named to ride from post two in a field of six. All horses will carry 120 pounds.
“I wouldn't rule out a one-turn mile for her. Obviously the [Go for Wand] winner is a Grade 1 winner, so we didn't feel like by her not winning that race it took anything away from her effort,” Stidham said. “It was a good effort. I would say anything around one turn is pretty much her best.”
Like Saguaro Row, Laurel-based multiple stakes winners Needs Supervision and Anna's Bandit can also find their first graded-stakes success in the Fritchie. Howling Pigeon Farms, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Madaket Stables' Needs Supervision was fourth in the Go for Wand, sandwiched by a win in the seven-furlong Imagining Safely Kept and a second in the 6 1/2-furlong What a Summer at Laurel, the latter Jan. 18.
Trainer Jerry O'Dwyer expects a different Needs Supervision than the 4-year-old daughter of Grade 1 winner Paynter showed in her most recent start, when she got bumped and steadied at the start and made a six-wide rally but came up nearly four lengths short of Victim of Love, who also returns in the Fritchie.
“I don't know what her deal was the last time. She had a bit of an off day. She finished second in a stake, but it really wasn't her true running,” O'Dwyer said. “She was a little anxious behind the gate and a little anxious when she was with the pony. She doesn't sweat up or wash out or anything, but mentally she's a tough filly so if something upsets her she wants to fight it.
“I think she just got a little upset that day,” he added. “She broke slow and never really got into it early and her class got her up for second. I'm drawing a bit of a line through it and I'm expecting a much better performance. I know she's better than that.”
Needs Supervision was also off the board in two previous graded attempts last year – the G2 Rachel Alexandra in February, which was followed by a seven-month gap between races; and the G2 Raven Run in October that preceded the Safely Kept. Feargal Lynch will be aboard from post six.
“It's not going to be easy. It's going to be a tough race with everybody looking to get a piece of it. We're just doing our best to tweak a few things and keep her happy. Going into this race she's had two nice breezes and come out of them both very well, so I'm looking forward to getting her back there,” O'Dwyer said. “This track at Laurel suits her a little better and she's won over it. She's familiar with it. It's home turf for her.”
No horse entered in the Fritchie has had more success at Laurel than No Guts No Glory Farm's Anna's Bandit, with 10 wins from 21 tries. The 6-year-old mare, bred in West Virginia by Laurel trainer Jerry Robb, had a six-race win streak snapped when second in the one-mile Geisha Stakes Jan. 18.
A 16-time career winner, 10 in stakes, with $718,715 in purse earnings from 33 starts, Anna's Bandit has never run in a graded-stakes. Regular rider Xavier Perez has the call from post one.
“I've just kind of been picking my spots,” Robb said. “You never know who's coming until entry time. My plan is to enter and if it looks like she has a shot in it, I'll run her. If it looks like it's way too tough for her, I won't run her because I don't want to make her do any more than she has to. She's been very, very good to us.”
Despite suffering her first loss since last July and her first on the dirt since last May, Anna's Bandit gave Robb an unusual indication that she is up for the challenge.
“The other morning, she was supposed to gallop. Usually she just does her thing and that's it. But that morning she got real aggressive and tried to get away from Xavier like she wanted to do something. She was getting pretty high so I went ahead and breezed her the next day. I wasn't going to breeze her at all,” Robb said. “She's never done that before. That was something new. She was just full of herself.”
Morris Kernan and M-Z Racing Partnership's Blue Eyed Girl will be making her stakes debut in the Fritchie, having won her last three starts by a combined 14 3/4 lengths. After a pair of wins at her home base of Parx, she aired by 6 1/2 lengths in a second-level optional claiming allowance Jan. 11, her first time at Laurel.
“I know she can run, but I didn't know she could run like that. I was pretty impressed with her. I've always liked her. She's the kind of horse that has just gotten better and better and better,” trainer Marcos Zulueta said. “She's doing perfect right now. She's on top of her game. She's doing good, so we'll take a chance.”
Blue Eyed Girl will have the services of Alex Cintron from post three.
Hillwood Stable and Richard Golden's multiple stakes winner Majestic Reason, worse than third in nine career tries at Laurel including a three-quarter-length triumph in the Willa On the Move Dec. 28 for trainer Graham Motion; and Victim of Love, also winner of the Island Fashion last winter at Sunland Park, complete the field.
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