The Grade 3 General George (Watch Monday's card live; get PPs) at Laurel Park on Monday took on new life Saturday morning when trainer Mary Eppler decided to scratch Page McKenney from that day's John B. Campbell Stakes and instead shorten him up to a sprint for the first time since March 2013.
Page McKenney, among the most popular horses in the Mid-Atlantic, has turned into a once-in-a-lifetime horse for Eppler and owner Adam Staple since they claimed him for $16,000 out of a race for non-winners of two in July 2013. He went over $1 million in earnings by winning the Native Dancer at Laurel in his last start, has won 4 of his last 5, and at age 6 appears to be in the best form of his career.
But can he shorten up to the seven furlongs of the General George successfully?
"If he doesn't, we can regroup and stretch him back out," Eppler said. "If he can, it opens new possibilities for us. He's done everything I've ever asked of him. When I first claimed him, I thought he was only grass. I tried him once on dirt just to see what he would do, and now he's better on dirt."
Jockey Horacio Karamanos will be aboard Page McKenney for the 12th straight time Monday. Eppler said Karamanos is confident that the distance change will not be a problem.
"Horacio said, 'He'll give me his run, I'll just have to ask him sooner,' " Eppler said.
The General George is not an easy race. Green Gratto, trained by Gaston Green, is lightning-fast and won the Grade 3 Fall Highweight and the Gravesend at Aqueduct before being run down in deep stretch of the Grade 3 Toboggan last out.
Majestic Affair, trained by Chad Brown, won two sprint stakes in early 2015. Since returning from a layoff, he has won twice going two turns at Aqueduct and will be turning back from a mile and 70 yards to seven furlongs.
There are two sharp locals in the field. Sonny Inspired and Majestic Hussar finished first and second Jan. 16 in the Fire Plug here. Trainer Phil Schoenthal tweaked Sonny Inspired's blinkers for that race, and the result was a career-best effort.
Majestic Hussar, trained by Bill Campbell, has run hard in his last four races and finished second despite rough trips in both the Swatara Stakes at Penn National and the Fire Plug
Page McKenney, by Eavesdropper
Last 3 Beyers: 97-103-96
A versatile horse, he has won from far back and from close to the pace.
Amazingly consistent, he has not finished worse than third in 22 starts dating back to May 2014.
Majestic Affair, by Majesticperfection
Last 3 Beyers: 101-93-79
Should be dead fit after two route wins and has the tactical speed to track the pace.
Green Gratto, by Here's Zealous
Last 3 Beyers: 96-107-101
An iron horse, he ran 16 times in 2015.
He was run down late in the Toboggan in a 13.19-second final furlong. He is likely better at six furlongs than seven.
Majestic Hussar, by Majestic Warrior
Last 3 Beyers: 88-92-79
Had a rough inside trip last out in the Fire Plug and then finished from well out in the track.
He is a longshot sleeper.
Sonny Inspired, by Artie Schiller
Last 3 Beyers: 92-71-87
Has had a tendency to hang but never looked back after taking the lead in upper stretch of the Fire Plug when fitted with full-cup blinkers.
Fabulous Kid, by Congrats
Last 3 Beyers: 89-87-99
Should be closer to the pace at seven furlongs than he has been in his last two races, both at six furlongs.
He is trained by David Jacobson.