Heavy favorite Bear Fan pulled her way to the lead coming out of the far turn and held off the closing Gazillion for a one-length victory in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares at Laurel Park Saturday.
The Southern California invader was ridden by Ryan Fogelsonger, who moved his tack back home to Maryland from the Southern California circuit last week. Bear Fan, who won her first graded stakes race, covered the seven-furlong distance on a fast track in 1:23 2/5. Gazillion was 1 1/2 length ahead of Bronze Abe.
Fogelsonger kept the 11-10 favorite fourth on the outside and off the pace as Wallop, Balmy and Bronze Abe vied for the early lead, completing the opening quarter mile :23 2/5. As Balmy took control through a :46 2/5 half-mile, Bear Fan eased up on the outside and edged in front. The 5-year-old Pine Bluff
mare opened up a three-length advantage in the stretch while completing six furlongs in 1:10 3/5 and she held off Gazillion and Ramon Dominguez in the eighth of a mile.
The Fritchie headlined the first day of Laurel Park's three-day SprintFest.
The golden boy from Maryland, Fogelsonger won the Eclipse Award for top apprentice in 2002 and took his act to California late in the summer of 2003. He returned to Maryland Saturday morning aboard a red-eye flight from the Golden State, armed with instructions from jockeys Mike Smith and Julie Krone on how to ride Bear Fan for trainer Wesley Ward.
"They told me not to move on her. When you're ready to go," Fogelsonger said, "she'll probably take you there first. I didn't nudge her until we were turning for home and then she took off. I knew they weren't going to catch her."
Fogelsonger won five straight meets at Pimlico and Laurel Park in a 12-month period but left Maryland for Southern California after winning the Laurel summer title. He made his mark riding in the nation's toughest jockey colony with top ten finishes at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Fairplex. He missed a month after suffering an injury in mid-December and after returning rode just two winners from less than 40 mounts in four weeks. Last weekend he made the decision to return home. He secured four rides and won twice.
"There's no place like home," said Fogelsonger. "I usually am not one to stress but I was stressing out there. It was tough to get in the groove of things. The experience was excellent. I learned a lot and if I didn't go out there I wouldn't have been on this filly today. I look at life as everything happens for a reason."
Bear Fan ended a four-race losing streak. She broke poorly in her last start, the $300,000 Sunshine Million Filly & Mare Sprint as the 3-2 choice, but rallied to finish in a deadheat for third. The California-bred won for the fifth time in nine career starts for trainer Wesley A. Ward and owners Peter Fan and Ward, earning a $120,000 paycheck. She now boasts a career bankroll of $441,970.
She paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20. Gazillion returned $3 and $2.40. Bronze Abe's show was $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $13.60.
Jester Rahab was fourth, followed by Balmy, Wallop, City Fire, Pleasant Note and Shiny Sheet. Bamba, River Cruise and Worldly Pleasure scratched.