Fan favorite Page McKenney will entertain the Laurel faithful on Saturday in either the $250,000 General George (G3) or the $75,000 John B. Campbell. The seven-year-old won the Campbell in 2015, but contested the seven-furlong General George a year ago and won in game fashion by a head.
If Page McKenney winds up in the General George, he’s had an ideal preparation. As was the case last season, the veteran tuned up with a victory in the $75,000 Native Dancer at about 1 1/16 miles on January 21, his first start in nine months.
“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, but he looked just like the old Page McKenney,” co-owner Adam Staple said. “I was genuinely surprised. It was just so amazing to have been able to have the privilege to see him run again.”
Page McKenney finished second in the Charles Town Classic (G2) following his General George win, but was forced to scratch from the Pimlico Special (G3) in May after reportedly developing a hip issue that caused swelling in a tendon.
An earner of nearly $1.5 million Page McKenney would face a solid field in the General George. Heaven’s Runway makes his season debut after closing out 2016 with back-to-back wins in the Fall Highweight H. (G3) and $100,000 Dave’s Friend. He’s joined by fellow Rudy Rodriguez trainee Voluntario.
Another top sprinter from New York is Stallwalkin’ Dude, who’s captured the Bold Ruler H. (G3) and $100,000 Gravesend, and placed in the Forego (G1) Vosburgh (G1), Fall Highweight, and Toboggan (G3) in his last six starts. The Fall Highweight and Toboggan losses were both by a neck.
Imperial Hint has won three of his past four, including the $75,000 Fire Plug at Laurel on January 14, while Afleet Willy enters on a three-race win streak against allowance does. Kiaran McLaughlin saddles multiple graded-placed Classy Class and Grade 3 scorer Ocean Knight.
McLaughlin also has Aqueduct stakes winners Takrees and Clothes Fall Off set for the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie (G2) for fillies and mares over seven furlongs. First and fifth, respectively, in the $100,000 Interborough on January 22, both have finished second in their prior appearances at Laurel. For Clothes Fall Off, her runner-up placing came in the 2016 Barbara Fritchie behind stablemate Dancing House.
Following the Barbara Fritchie, Clothes Fall Off finished up the track in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and did not race the remainder of the year after that April 9 heat.
“She just had some bruising of the cannon bone. We were pointing for this race with the [Interborough], so it worked out well. I wish she would have run better last time,” McLaughlin said. “She broke and was kind of chasing, and I don’t think she wanted to be chasing. She just flattened out down the lane. She’ll improve a lot from the run. She had been off a long time and she’s come back and worked well since.”
High Ridge Road and By the Moon, separated by a half-length in the $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go on New Year’s Eve, both shorten up from a mile. That was the first stakes win for High Ridge Road, who had previously missed by a nose in the Go for Wand H. (G3) at Aqueduct. Grade 1 veteran By the Moon won the Bed o’ Roses H. (G3) and finished second by a half-length in the Ballerina (G1) last term.
Also lining up is Wonder Gal, a neck third in the Go for Wand and most recently a dominating 13 1/2-length victor of the $98,000 Ladies H. at the Big A.