Flip through photos of Chester and Mary Broman's homebred Highway Star and you'll catch a trend.
In almost every race shot, the Girolamo mare is digging deep to fend off some flat-out rival—and eight times, those rivals have been on the losing end.
If there's one thing her connections know about the 5-year-old New York-bred, it's that she doesn't back down from a fight. And aside from a disappointing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Del Mar—where she finished up the track while another Broman homebred, Bar of Gold, upset the race at odds of 66-1—Highway Star has been no worse than fourth in 15 starts. She's also raced her way to millionaire status, with earnings of $1,009,000.
Trained in New York by Rodrigo Ubillo, the chestnut mare won the Gallant Bloom Stakes (G2), Ruffian Stakes (G2), and Distaff Handicap (G3) last year at distances from 6 1/2 furlongs to one mile. She also finished second in the Ketel One Ballerina Stakes (G1) going seven furlongs, third in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1), and second while defending her title in the one-mile Go for Wand Handicap (G3) Dec. 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack, her most recent start.
"After the Breeders' Cup, she didn't run well there for whatever reason, and it was either run her in the Go for Wand, which was not the ideal place timing-wise, or wait for this year," trainer Rodrigo Ubillo said. "We entered, she ran OK (second by a length), we gave her a little time off to freshen her up, and now we're here."
"Here" is the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Stakes (G2) Feb. 17 at Laurel Park, a seven-furlong sprint for which Highway Star has been assigned high weight of 124 pounds and the outside post in a field of 11 older fillies and mares (all others carry 118 pounds). Ubillo is still working to secure a rider—"It's never easy," he said of a trainer's job—and the mare faces a tough task off the layoff in her 5-year-old debut against some already sharp rivals.
Ubillo, however, has faith in his charge. He remembers her runner-up finish, just a tad short, in the Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course, where "She didn't run for about 77 days, she needed a race, and even so she ran game and just got beat by a head.
"She tries hard, it's her willingness," Ubillo added. "She doesn't like to quit. She's always very game, very gutsy, that's the way she is in mornings too. She loves to do her job, which is racing. In between seven furlongs and a mile, she handles those two distances very well. We know she likes the one turn, and we'll see about the competition. I think she's going to give it a good race."
Highway Star has tuned up for her 2018 debut with a series of four-furlong works at Belmont Park, the latest a Feb. 9 move in :49.55, second-fastest of 44 at the distance on the day.
A prime threat for the New York invader is Cash is King and Jim Reichenberg's local stakes winner Ms Locust Point, who has been favored in each of her seven lifetime starts and puts a three-race win streak on the line in pursuit of her first graded triumph.
Ms Locust Point has won three consecutive races since she returned in November following a layoff after her lone prior graded try, the 2017 Forward Gal Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Her last two have come in the six-furlong Willa On the Move Stakes and What a Summer Stakes at Laurel, where she also captured the Gin Talking Stakes in December of 2016.
Both of the 4-year-old Dialed In filly's recent victories came in front-running fashion, and she kicked off 2018 with a three-length triumph in the Jan. 20 What a Summer despite bobbling at the start. The final time was a sharp 1:09.78.
"She's maturing and learning how to settle a little more," trainer John Servis said. "She's becoming a better racehorse. She looks like a colt, and she's got a pretty fast cruising speed. She can cruise along pretty good and just do that in hand comfortably.
"When we first got her, about the third time we breezed her she did it so nice and well in hand. She was a little rambunctious then, so we kind of thought if we could teach her to settle and bottle up some of that speed, we'd be a lot better off in the long run. ... We're just taking baby steps with her and trying to manage her the right way and find the right spots where she can continue to earn money and be successful."
Jorge Vargas Jr., who leads Laurel's current winter-spring meet with 19 wins from 78 starters, retains the mount from post 9.
Three C Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Robert Masiello's Berned will make her 4-year-old debut, having rallied from last of 11 to upset the seven-furlong Safely Kept Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths at odds of 8-1 Nov. 11, her most recent effort.
Berned has run in five previous graded stakes, and finished second in the 2016 Tempted Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct by less than a length. Feargal Lynch, aboard for the second straight time in the Safely Kept, retains the mount from post 6.
"When she won the Safely Kept, this was sort of the plan to point for the race at Laurel," trainer Graham Motion said. "She obviously likes the track a lot and Feargal's got an awful lot of confidence in her.
"I always had her pegged as more of a mile and a quarter-type horse, but the owners always thought she was more of a seven-furlong horse, and it looks like they were right."
Rounding out the field are Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes winner Bishop's Pond, who is cross-entered in the Maryland Racing Media Stakes; Divine Miss Grey and Boule, who ran 1-2 in the Jan. 15 Interborough Stakes at Aqueduct; multiple stakes winner Quezon; stakes winner Moiety; Thirty Eight Go Go runner-up Sky Flower; Tazkeya, second to Ms Locust Point in the What A Summer; and Frisky Whiskey, who is also cross-entered in the Maryland Racing Media Stakes.
Also on the card, Jacks or Better Farm's homebred Awesome Banner is scheduled to face nine rivals in the $250,000 General George Stakes (G3).
Laurel Park, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 10 Laurel Park, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 9
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Divine Miss Grey (KY) Kendrick Carmouche 118 Danny Gargan 9/2 2 2Boule (KY) Manuel Franco 118 William I. Mott 12/1 3 3Sky Flower (KY) Luis Garcia 118 Gerald E. Brooks 20/1 4 4Frisky Whiskey (ON) UNKNOWN 118 Marco P. Salazar 30/1 5 5Tazkeya (KY) Mychel J. Sanchez 118 Michael V. Pino 20/1 6 6Berned (KY) Feargal Lynch 118 H. Graham Motion 6/1 7 7Moiety (KY) Elvis Trujillo 118 Eoin G. Harty 15/1 8 8Bishop's Pond (KY) Rosario Montanez 118 Jason Servis 10/1 9 9Ms Locust Point (KY) Jorge A. Vargas, Jr. 118 John C. Servis 4/1 10 10Quezon (NY) Joseph Rocco, Jr. 118 Robert Ribaudo 9/2 11 11Highway Star (NY) UNKNOWN 124 Rodrigo A. Ubillo 7/2
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Cowboy Mz (PA) Mychel J. Sanchez 118 Marcos Zulueta 12/1 2 2Awesome Banner (FL) J. D. Acosta 118 Kenneth Decker 7/2 3 3Sonny Inspired (MD) Carlos Quinones 118 Phil Schoenthal 30/1 4 4It's the Journey (MD) Julian Pimentel 118 Michael J. Trombetta 6/1 5 5Ballivor (MD) Weston Hamilton 118 Carlos A. Mancilla 30/1 6 6Something Awesome (ON) Elvis Trujillo 118 Jose Corrales 6/1 7 7Fellowship (FL) Steve D. Hamilton 118 Kenneth Decker 12/1 8 8Grasshoppin (PA) Sheldon Russell 118 Claudio A. Gonzalez 15/1 9 9Great Stuff (KY) Dylan Davis 118 David Jacobson 3/1 10 10Do Share (KY) Manuel Franco 118 Linda Rice 7/2
Laurel Park, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 10
Laurel Park, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 9