G3 Winner Hibiscus Punch Returns in $100,000 What a Summer
LAUREL, MD – Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables’ Wondrwherecraigis, unraced since giving trainer Brittany Russell her first graded-stakes victory three months ago, will kick off his 5-year-old campaign at home in Saturday’s $100,000 Fire Plug at Laurel Park.
The Fire Plug for 4-year-olds and up and the $100,000 What a Summer for fillies and mares 4 and older, both sprinting six furlongs, are among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses on a scheduled 10-race program that begins at 12:10 p.m.
Russell watched from home as Wondrwherecraigis notched a front-running 2 ¼-length over six rivals in the seven-furlong Bold Ruler (G3) Oct. 31 at Aqueduct. The effort came six weeks after the Munnings gelding finished first but was disqualified to second in Laurel’s Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3), and one day before Russell and her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, welcomed the birth of their second child.
“Rye was born the next day, and he’s 12 weeks old. It’s crazy,” Brittany Russell said. “It was an absolute whirlwind. It felt like it took a while to get there, but I can’t really say that either. We had a lot of good things happen with a couple horses, Hello Beautiful being one of them. For ‘Craig’ to step up and get that graded win was huge, especially since the seven-eighths was a bit of a question mark that day. It was nice to see that he could do it.”
Wondrwherecraigis was entered in the Dec. 17 Gravesend at Aqueduct but was forced to scratch after developing a foot infection. He has breezed three times this month for his return, most recently going a half-mile in 49 seconds Jan. 23, third-fastest of 49 horses.
“It’s just a tough time of year with these feet and he never had an issue until that point. It doesn’t seem to be a big thing, it’s just a timely thing. They just take time to get over it and he seems good. Everything’s good now,” Russell said.
“I had to work him back a little quicker one time than I wanted but that was so we didn’t miss out, and then he worked again on Sunday and worked fantastic,” she added. “From a fitness standpoint I think we’re in a great spot. It’s time to get him back racing.”
Winner of the 2021 Tale of the Cat at Saratoga, Wondrwherecraigis is 4-for-8 lifetime at six furlongs and will be ridden by Jevian Toledo from Post 2 in a field of seven at co-topweight of 126 pounds.
“New York was again an option, but with him missing a bit of time for the foot and things like that, it made sense to stay home,” Russell said. “Plus, the six furlongs is less of a question mark since he hasn’t raced since the end of October.”
West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner’s Maryland-bred Jaxon Traveler will be among the challengers in the first trip to his home state since winning the six-furlong Star de Naskra last August at historic Pimlico Race Course. Also by Munnings, the 4-year-old ran second to Grade 3 winner Chateau in the Gravesend.
“He’s good. He’s been sitting on go,” West Point chief operating officer Tom Bellhouse said. “He’s ready to rock and roll.”
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and stablemate of multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Jackie’s Warrior, Jaxon Traveler has never been worse than third in 12 lifetime starts with five wins, four of them in Maryland, two of them in stakes including the 2020 Maryland Juvenile Futurity at Laurel, where he is a perfect 2-0.
“He’s what I call a partnership horse dream,” Bellhouse said. “He’s run at seven or eight different tracks, on dirt, on synthetic, on turf, and he tries hard every time. He might be just a slight notch below Jackie’s Warrior and horses like that, but he’s definitely a horse that coming into his 4-year-old season, on the right day with the right setting he can run with anybody. And he loves Laurel, which is great.”
Victor Carrasco has the call on Jaxon Traveler from Post 6, also at 126 pounds.
Pocket 3’s Racing will be represented by the pair of Shackqueenking and Threes Over Deuces. Shackqueenking, 4, won the Howard County at Laurel as a 2-year-old in 2020 and has run third to Cordmaker in back-to-back stakes, most recently the 1 1/16-mile Robert T. Manfuso Dec. 26.
The 7-year-old Threes Over Deuces is a multiple stakes winner with a record of 7-13-8 from 40 career starts that exits a dramatic head triumph over 14-time winner Penguin Power in the six-furlong Dave’s Friend on the same Dec. 26 program.
A six-time stakes winner in his native West Virginia, Penguin Power also returns in the Fire Plug along with Youngest Of Five, third by a head in the Dave’s Friend and second by a neck to multiple stakes winner Whereshetoldmetogo after setting the pace in the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial Nov. 26 at Laurel.
Norman Garnes’ Studio B, racing second time off the claim for Penn National-based trainer Kimberly Graci, completes the field.
G3 Winner Hibiscus Punch Returns in $100,000 What a Summer
Eleven months after her upset victory in the Runhappy Barbara Fritchie (G3), Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s homebred mare Hibiscus Punch is set to return to Laurel Park for her 7-year-old debut in Saturday’s $100,000 What a Summer.
Hibiscus Punch, based at Laurel with trainer Justin Nixon, has not raced in 274 days since finishing fifth in last May’s Derby City Distaff (G1) which, like the Fritchie, is contested at seven furlongs.
“She came out of the race at Churchill and just needed a break. She had a tough trip in that race,” Nixon said. “We were very happy with everything she had accomplished up to then. We thought we’d do right by her and give her a bunch of time and freshen her up. We’ve just taken our time bringing her back.
“We’re all very excited to see her back at the races. Ed’s been very patient as he always is. There was never any pressure through the summer to have her ready for a certain race,” he added. “Ed was always just, ‘You decide when she’s ready.’ She’s done everything we’ve hoped she could do, and everything after this is a bonus. We’re looking forward to it. Hopefully we’ll have a good outing on the 29th.”
Hibiscus Punch raced four times at Woodbine in the fall of 2019 before going to the sidelines. She didn’t return for nearly a year, running third by two lengths in her Nov. 1, 2020 comeback, an off-the-turf six-furlong allowance at Laurel. She has won two of her four starts since, both with Horacio Karamanos aboard, who returns to ride from Post 10 in a field of 12.
“She’s been training very well,” Nixon said. “The first time I ever raced her was coming off a layoff last year and she showed a little bit more speed than maybe we’d like to see. She ended up on the lead and flattened out a little bit late. Horacio knows her and we’d obviously like to settle her in and make a good run down the lane. She’s been doing very well, she’s happy, she’s fresh. It’s horse racing. It’s up to her.”
Nixon said the plan is to have Hibiscus Punch ready to defend her title in the Fritchie, which she won last year at odds of 41-1 over a field that included multiple stakes winners Hello Beautiful, Dontletsweetfoolya and Needs Supervision; Grade 3 winners Sharp Starr and Estilo Talentoso; and stakes winner and multiple graded-stakes placed Club Car.
“We were hoping to get a race into her before the Fritchie,” Nixon said. “We’re just trying to have her as ready as we can for the Fritchie. That’s obviously the ultimate goal. If we can go back into that and do some damage in there, we’d be thrilled.”
Hibiscus Punch’s return will be made more difficult by the presence of stakes winners Don’t Call Me Mary, Kaylasaurus, Princess Kokachin and Prodigy Doll as well as Three Diamonds Farm’s Time Limit, a six-time stakes-placed mare including the 2019 Matron (G3) trained by Mike Maker.
The Elkstone Group’s Don’t Call Me Mary won the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial last August at Parx against fellow Pennsylvania-breds, and captured an open six-furlong optional claiming allowance in mid-November at Laurel for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. HnR Nothhaft Horse Racing’s Prodigy Doll took the Cheryl S. White Memorial last April at Mahoning Valley and also ran third in the 2021 Stormy Blues at Pimlico.
Eric Rizer’s homebred Princess Kokachin became a stakes winner by defeating heavily favored Hello Beautiful in the Nov. 26 Politely at Laurel, and had a five-race win streak snapped when second to Kaylasaurus in the Dec. 26 Willa On the Move. Princess Kokachin’s Jerry Robb-trained stablemate Fille d’Esprit has won five of her last seven starts including a seven-length optional claiming allowance triumph as the favorite Dec. 19 at Laurel.
Bush Racing Stable and Liberty House Racing’s Kaylasaurus won the Willa On the Move in her first start since being claimed for $25,000 in late November at Parx. She is joined in the What a Summer by Matthew Groff’s Our Sweet Girl, a fellow Tim Kreiser trainee that takes a three-race win streak into her stakes debut.
David Charlton, MarchFore Thoroughbreds and Bradley Thoroughbreds’ Regal Retort, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, exits a Nov. 25 optional claiming allowance win in Kentucky. She is stakes-placed, having run third behind six-time stakes winner Chub Wagon and two-time Grade 3 winner Pacific Gale in last fall’s Roamin Rachel at Parx.
Rounding out the field are Bunting and Phantom Shot.
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo: Wonderwherecraigis (MJC Photo)