Led by a trio of in-form New York invaders, a field of nine was drawn for the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 18 at Laurel Park.
Lovely Lil, Nicole H, and C C's Pal—all with recent stakes victories at Aqueduct—were entered with good chances to take down the seven-furlong Fritchie, a contest on dirt for fillies and mares. The purse was increased by $50,000 from a year ago.
Lovely Lil and Nicole H are the only graded stakes winners in the field, and both are trained by Michael Hushion, who won this race in 2011 with Harissa. Barry Schwartz’s Lovely Lil scored the Go For Wand Handicap (gr. II) in wire-to-wire fashion in November for her first graded victory, and has produced a solid 5-3-1 record from 12 lifetime starts. The 5-year-old daughter of Tiznow was a distant second in the state-restricted We’ll Sea Ya Stakes Jan. 13 in her season debut, losing by 3 1/4 lengths as the 1-5 favorite.
Lovely Lil was bred in New York by Stonewall Farm. Julian Pimentel was named to ride.
“She is certainly a hard-knocker,” said Hushion. “I am not sure what happened in her last race. I thought she’d run better than that. Maybe the two turns bothered her but the one turn seven-eighths distance is going to be right up her alley.”
Nicole H is owned by Gem, Inc., which sent out Harissa a year ago. The 6-5 morning-line favorite has been in terrific form for more than a year, winning five of six starts, with her only loss coming by a nose at Suffolk Downs last fall. All five of the Mr. Greeley mare’s wins came at Aqueduct, including the seven-furlong Distaff Handicap (gr. II) last April.
Nicole H is 2-for-2 already this year, winning a pair of six-furlong listed stakes as the heavy favorite both times. She has produced a 7-6-2 record from 18 lifetime starts and earnings of more than $400,000. Ramon Dominguez, aboard Harissa last year, has been named to ride the 121-pound high weight.
“We are very happy with how she came out of her last race (on Feb. 4),” Hushion said. “We don’t usually run a horse like her back in two weeks but she bounced out of her last race and I think seven-eighths is a perfect distance.”
Eric Fein’s C C’s Pal has also won two straight at Aqueduct, the Garland of Roses Stakes in December and the Ladies Handicap on New Year’s Day. The 5-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Alex's Pal has also been a consistent earner in her 25-start career, banking more than $450,000 from seven wins. She finished third to Lovely Lil in the Go For Wand three starts back.
Rick Dutrow Jr. trains C C’s Pal, who has recorded a pair of six-furlong works at Aqueduct leading up to the race. Junior Alvarado will be in the irons. Dutrow won the Fritchie in 2005 and 2007.
Aquitania, a 4-year-old daughter of Leroidesanimaux, was third, beaten two lengths by Nicole H in the Interborough Stakes on Jan. 1. It was the only defeat in the last five starts for the filly, who was running in $25,000 claimers at Laurel as recently as September.
“She ran a good race up in New York,” trainer Hamilton Smith said. “She is a honest filly. I tried her long and on the grass but she seems to like sprinting. It is a tough race but she likes Laurel and we’ll see if she can handle better company.”
Arnold Heft’s Red’s Round Table has won consecutive races and six of her past seven starts. The 4-year-old Cuvee filly has won three of four lifetime at Laurel, her only defeat coming to Aquitania in an optional claimer in December when second.
Nancy Terhune’s Silver Heart will make her graded stakes debut in her 30th lifetime start. The 7-year-old daughter of Lion Hearted was claimed by trainer Gary Capuano for her owner in October 2009 for $12,500 and has won five times since. Most recently, she won an optional claimer at Charles Town Jan. 17. The West Virginia-bred mare was beaten a head in the Maryland Million Distaff Handicap last fall.
$200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 3:55 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Aquitania (KY), J Pimentel, 115, H A Smith
2. Red's Round Table (KY), S Russell, 116, T L Keefe
3. C C's Pal (FL), J Alvarado, 119, R E Dutrow Jr.
4. Magical Feeling (KY), R Alvarado Jr., 115, A Iwinski
5. Terra Rolla (MD), No rider, 111, R L Graham
6. Lovely Lil (NY), J Pimentel, 117, M E Hushion
7. Nicole H (KY), R A Dominguez, 121, M E Hushion
8. Lily Quatorze (MD), No rider, 110 T Tagg
9. Silver Heart (WV), T L Dunkelberger, 115, G Capuano