LAUREL, MD. 02-11-09---The storied Barbara Fritchie Handicap (GII) kicks off holiday racing this weekend at Laurel Park. The John B. Campbell Handicap is the co-feature on Saturday and the General George Handicap (GII) is the highlight on Monday’s President’s day card.

A bang-up edition of the Fritchie has attracted eight fillies and mares who will race seven furlongs and kickoff the Magna 5 cross country wager. New York shipper Seventh Street, Grade I winner Dream Rush, By the Light from the powerful Richard Dutrow stable and local star Access Fee will vie for favoritism in the $150,000 test.

Seventh Street (5-2) has raced as the odds-on favorite in all four of her starts, breaking slowly in her maiden race at Gulfstream Park and finishing third, then reeling off three consecutive wins by open lengths over “off” tracks at Aqueduct. The daughter of Street Cry is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. Rajiv Maragh will accompany the filly from New York.

“She’s acting like a top notch filly,” said Art Magnusson, assistant to trainer McLaughlin. “We’ve sort of babied her in her preparation through her career, but it’s time for her to step up and face some nice fillies. She’s ready.”

Dream Rush (3-1) was a dominant player in 2007, winning the Prioress (GI) and Test (GI). She followed those wins with two appearances in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, finishing fifth in 2007 and thirteenth in 2008. She regrouped in Florida this winter, reeling off an allowance win and a stakes victory, both at Tampa Downs. Will Phipps trains the daughter of Wild Rush, who will arrive in Maryland from Florida Friday morning. Veteran Jean Luc Samyn has the riding assignment.

“She came into our barn in September and it took us a while to figure her out,” said Phipps. “We took her to Presque Isle to see if she would like the synthetic track and she liked it as a fast track. Then we decided to try the Pro Ride track at Santa Anita, but it rained out there for about three days and it wasn’t to her liking. Then we came to Florida and worked on changing her running style. She’s an older horse with different issues and we wanted to use some of that natural speed of hers, to get her to relax and come from off it and she loved it.”

Dutrow is represented by the Malibu Moon filly By the Light (4-1), a New York-bred filly who has won seven stakes, her most recent over state-breds in the Soft Morning at Aqueduct. Following that, she turned in a bullet workout at Aqueduct on February 9. Luis Garcia picks up the mount.

“She has been beating up on the New York-breds,” said Dutrow, who won the Barbara Fritchie with Cativa (2005) and Oprah Winney (2007). “She has a lot of versatility. She can go to the lead, she can come from behind and she’s won going two turns. She is very determined and a nice filly to be around. She has all the qualities you’d want in a racehorse.”

Access Fee (9-2) prepped for the Fritchie with an impressive victory in Laurel’s What A Summer Stakes, which brought her record to four wins in six starts. The daughter of Menifee has posted two terrific works on her home track, including a bullet half-mile work on January 30. Jose Caraballo rides for trainer Larry Murray.

“She is doing great,” Murray said. “This race is pretty salty with Dream Rush and the horse of McLaughlin’s but it is hard to pass up a Grade II in your backyard. She has a lot of raw speed but unfortunately you cannot harness it-she wants to go-and you can’t fight her. It should be a heck of a race.”

Royale Michele (8-1) merits attention, with four wins in seven starts, the last three all in a row at Mountaineer Park, including the New Year’s Eve Stakes. All were in sprints and she won each race by open lengths. Royale Michele and trainer Matt Kintz arrived in central Maryland last week and she worked six furlongs at Laurel on February 6. Geovany Garcia will be aboard the daughter of Elusive Quality.

“We were having difficulty training at home with the weather there and I’m glad we came down early,” Kintz said. “I’m very pleased with the way she worked, very pleased with the condition of the racetrack.”

Second in Mountaineer’s New Year’s Eve Stakes was A Rose for You (6-1) from the Mike Trombetta barn. She won the Lady Ann Stakes in November and ran a troubled fourth in the Correction Handicap at Aqueduct on January 31 before and after her start at Mountaineer. Jeremy Rose has the mount on the daughter of Orientate.

“She came to us in November and has gotten pretty good for us,” Trombetta said. “We started out at the first level allowance condition and is now a stakes winner so you have to be pretty proud of those kind.”

Trombetta, who has stakes runners at four tracks this weekend, has also entered Now It Begins (30-1), who took the Squan Song Stakes in November with regular rider Charlie Forrest.

Richard Small will saddle Fascinatin’ Rhythm in Saturday’s headliner. The daughter of More Than Ready has finished second in three straight stakes at Laurel since mid-November. Mario Pino, who won this race in 1992, 1995 and 1999, will ride the four-year-old for the first time.

“She has been unlucky in two of those losses,” Small said. “She has been training well and deserves a chance. She is very willing but still green so she is still on the improve.”

$150,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (Grade II)
1 Royale Michele 8-1 Kintz G. Garcia won three consecutive starts
2 Now It Begins 30-1 Trombetta Forrest all four wins at Laurel
3 Seventh Street 5-2 McLaughlin R. Maragh won three straight at odds-on
4 By the Light 4-1 R. Dutrow L. Garcia seven career stakes wins
5 Fascinatin’ Rhythm 12-1 Small Pino rider has won Fritchie three times
6 A Rose for You 6-1 Trombetta Rose three-for-six in Trombetta barn
7 Dream Rush 3-1 Phipps Samyn only graded winner in field
8 Access Fee 9-2 Murray Caraballo four-for-four at laurel

Saturday’s card also includes the $50,000 John B. Campbell Handicap for older horses. A field of ten is entered. A full advance will be produced Friday.

The Laurel racing office will draw Monday’s card, headlined by the $150,000 General George Handicap (Grade II), Thursday afternoon. A full advance of the General George will be released tomorrow.

The annual Winter SprintFest weekend features several promotions. On Saturday, the first 4,000 full-paid fans will receive a free Laurel Park cap and can get free admission to the Monday card by wearing the cap.

Saturday festivities include several treasure chest drawings, including a spa romance package at Turf Valley Resort. Monday’s treasure chest drawing will be for premium seating to the 2009 Preakness® Stakes.