Trainer Bob Baffert has won Maryland’s marquee race, the Preakness Stakes (G1), five times during his Hall of Fame career.
But the Souuthern California-based trainer had never sent a starter to Laurel Park until Brigand won the City Of Laurel Stakes on Dec. 8.
Brigand returns to the central Maryland track Monday as the 9-5 morning line favorite in the $250,000 General George Handicap (G3), which will feature eight battle-tested sprinters going seven furlongs. Laurel’s SprintFest weekend also includes the $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (G2) and the $125,000 John B. Campbell Handicap on Saturday afternoon.
It’s hard to find a race among Brigand’s past performances where he hasn’t had the lead for at least part of the race. In his past two starts, the Flatter colt posted a front running win in the City of Laurel Stakes and a gate-to-wire score in the Turn of the Century Stakes against New York-breds at Aqueduct on January 20. His best graded effort was a second place finish in the Jerome (G2) at Aqueduct last spring. Irad Ortiz has the mount.
“He’s doing great,” Baffert said. “He is finally matured and running like his purchase price ($925,000).”
Il Villano (3-1) hit the board in seven of nine stakes last year, winning the Chick Lang at Pimlico Race Course and the Dave’s Friend at Laurel, placing in the Hutcheson (G2) at Gulfstream, the Red Legend at Charles Town and the De Francis Dash at Laurel and finishing third in the Woody Stephens (G2) at Belmont. The son of Pollard’s Vision, who is trained by Susie Crowell at Parx Racing, will carry jockey Kendrick Carmouche for the fourth consecutive start.
“He is doing well. He had a bullet work yesterday (4f in 47.6 seconds),” Crowell said. “He had a tremendous 3-year-old campaign and is a very honest horse. He has been a pleasure to work with. It makes you want to get up every morning to go to work.”
Associate (4-1) ascended from the claiming ranks into a stakes competitor while in the Rick Dutrow barn, finishing third in the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita Park to end 2011, third in the Bold Ruler (G3) at Belmont Park to end 2012 and off the board in the Hals Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Park to start 2013. Michelle Nevin takes over training for the son of Wando with Erick Rodriguez riding for the first time.
“He really took to the dirt once he got to Rick’s barn,” Nevin said. “He has been training extremely well since the Hal’s Hope and we are happy with him. He already galloped over the track at Laurel and handled it well. I am expecting a big effort.”
Fiddlers Afleet (6-1) battled New York-breds last year before venturing to Laurel in late December to finish fourth in the Dave’s Friend Stakes. Claimed for $75,000 in December by Rudy Rodriguez, the son of Northern Afleet won two restricted stakes last year for his previous connections. Horacio Karamanos will be in the irons.
Cathal Lynch has shipped Javerre (8-1) to Laurel for his last three starts and the son of Outflanker put in on the board efforts in the Maryland Million Sprint, the City of Laurel and the Native Dancer. The New Jersey-bred won four races last year including the New Jersey Breeders Handicap. J.D. Acosta is his rider.
Isn’t He Perfect (10-1) has competed in eight stakes races, including two graded events, since his last victory in May. The son of Pleasantly Perfect ran in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and the Belmont Stakes (G1) two years ago. The Doodnaught Shivmangal trainee is also entered in an overnight stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday.
Thunder Lord (15-1) finished second in the John B. Campbell last year and has nine in the money finishes in 13 career starts. Carlos Marquez has the mount for trainer Jose Corrales.
Richard Small trains Broad Rule (20-1), the upset winner of the Fire Plug Stakes last time out. Forrest Boyce is his regular rider.