Trainer Mary Eppler cross-entered Adam Stable and Jalin Stables' grade 3 winner in the $250,000 General George (G3), which he won in 2016, and the $75,000 John B. Campbell, which he took the year before. She said she'll likely wait until the weekend to decide where the 7-year-old Eavesdropper gelding will start.
A claimer turned millionaire, Page McKenney ended a nine-month gap between races with a 1 3/4-length victory Jan. 21 in Laurel's Native Dancer Stakes. A minor hip issue that caused him to develop swelling in a tendon last May kept him away from the races from late April until his 2017 return.
"I was very impressed with his last race. I was really just looking for him to show some semblance of his old self and was definitely not expecting a win off such a long layoff," Staple said. "But he looked just like the old Page McKenney. I was genuinely surprised. It was just so amazing to have been able to have the privilege to see him run again."
Both for 4-year-olds and older, the General George is contested at seven furlongs, while the Campbell is run at 1 1/8 miles. Page McKenney drew post 3 in the General George and shares a 122-pound highweight impost with Heaven's Runway and Stallwalkin' Dude. In the Campbell he was assigned post 6 and 120 pounds, while stakes winner Turco Bravo carries top weight of 124 pounds for his first start since August. In both spots, regular rider Horacio Karamanos has the mount.
"He's going to run in one of them," Eppler said. "He can do both. Either one is good for him. I feel more confident because he came back great. He was back to his old self the next day, just walking around looking for his mints. He's very laid back.
"I think he's going to be even better this time. He's been training great. He's stronger and fitter, and he looks great."
Last year's General George, where he raced mid-pack before winning by a head over Majestic Affair, was the first time Page McKenney raced shorter than one mile since July of 2013, when he joined Eppler's string after being claimed for $16,000. He is 4-1-1-0 lifetime at seven furlongs and hadn't sprinted previously since March of 2013.
Page McKenney has never finished worse than third in nine tries at 1 1/8 miles. He has four wins at the distance, including the Campbell, Howard Johnson Memorial, and Richard W. Small in 2015.
Should he go to the General George, Page McKenney would face a runner on a win streak in Heaven's Runway, who concluded 2016 with back-to-back stakes scores. The 7-year-old son of Runaway and Hide upset the Nov. 24 Fall Highweight Handicap (G3) at odds of 32-1 for Michael Dubb and trainer Rudy Rodriguez, then notched a half-length win in the Dave's Friend Stakes Dec. 31 at Laurel. Both races were six furlongs.
Dubb and Rodriguez also have 4-year-old Voluntario, a Hold Me Back colt coming off a third in allowance company at Aqueduct Racetrack. The General George will be the first sprint for Voluntario since winning a six-furlong starter optional claimer over Aqueduct's inner track last February.
Stallwalkin' Dude, co-owned and trained by David Jacobson, has been no worse than third in seven starts dating back to last summer, including stakes wins in the Bold Ruler (G3), Tale of the Cat, and Gravesend. He finished second by a neck to Heaven's Runway in the Fall Highweight and third by the same margin in the Toboggan in his most recent outing.
Another pair of contenders coming in from New York are grade 3 winner Ocean Knight and grade 3-placed Classy Class for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Laurel Park, Saturday, February 18, 2017, Race 10
- 4 yo's & up
- 5:00 PM (local)
|1||1Never Gone South (KY)||Trevor McCarthy||118||Cathal A. Lynch||20/1|
|2||2Afleet Willy (KY)||Victor R. Carrasco||118||Claudio A. Gonzalez||12/1|
|3||3Page McKenney (PA)||Horacio Karamanos||122||Mary E. Eppler||7/2|
|4||4Classy Class (KY)||Rajiv Maragh||118||Kiaran P. McLaughlin||15/1|
|5||5Imperial Hint (FL)||Julian Pimentel||118||Luis Carvajal, Jr.||3/1|
|6||6Stallwalkin' Dude (FL)||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||122||David Jacobson||5/2|
|7||7Voluntario (KY)||Ruben Silvera||118||Rudy R. Rodriguez||15/1|
|8||8Grasshoppin (PA)||Hector Caballero||118||Mario Serey, Jr.||30/1|
|9||9Heaven's Runway (KY)||Kendrick Carmouche||122||Rudy R. Rodriguez||6/1|
|10||10Ocean Knight (KY)||Feargal Lynch||118||Kiaran P. McLaughlin||10/1|