02/16/2017 12:40PM

Crabcakes facing stiffest test yet in Wide Country

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Crabcakes enters the Wide Country Stakes undefeated in three lifetime starts.

Four $75,000 supporting stakes will set the table at Laurel Park on Saturday for the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and Grade 3 General George, which will conclude the 10-race card.

The six stakes will run consecutively, meaning the Maryland Racing Media will begin the Rainbow 6 and the Wide Country will be the first leg of the 12-percent-takeout pick five. They will be followed by the Miracle Wood, John B. Campbell, Barbara Fritchie, and General George.

The one-mile Miracle Wood and seven-furlong Wide Country are for 3-year-olds. The 1 1/8-mile Campbell and 1 1/16-mile Maryland Racing Media are for older runners.

One of the most interesting horses on the undercard is Crabcakes, a 3-year-old filly based at Penn National with trainer Bernie Houghton. A daughter of all-time leading Maryland sire Not for Love – who was euthanized last May – Crabcakes has not been seriously tested in three career starts but will face her stiffest test in the Wide Country.

Houghton entered Crabcakes, who is owned and was bred by the Buckingham Farm of his aunt Binnie Houghton, at Laurel in November, but the card was canceled. He wanted to run her in the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship on Dec. 10, so he raced her a week earlier in a Penn National maiden race. She jogged by five lengths.

“That was more a workout than anything,” Houghton said.

Crabcakes returned to win the statebred Juvenile Filly Championship by 1 1/4 lengths and has since aired in an open first-level optional claimer by 6 1/4 lengths.

While her Beyer Speed Figures aren’t flashy, she certainly has the look of a quality filly. Angel Rodriguez has been aboard for all of her races.

Houghton worked the excellently named Maryland-bred a bullet half-mile at Penn in 48 seconds Feb. 3 and a bullet five furlongs in 1:02 on Feb. 11.

“The five furlongs Saturday was really just an easy work,” Houghton said. “I had a work horse with her, and she just eased off and then dragged Angel up there. She was really in hand. The week before, I gave her a nice half-mile bullet. That was her main work.”

Her leading adversaries appear to be Kentucky shipper China Grove, trained by Ben Colebrook, and the Michelle Nevin-trained Forever Liesl, a 5 1/4-length maiden winner at Laurel on Dec. 31.

China Grove finished second in both the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs and a Keeneland race last fall. The Wide Country will be her first start since she finished sixth in the Grade 2 Golden Rod on Nov. 26.

◗ Page McKenney was cross-entered in the General George and the Campbell. On Friday, trainer Mary Eppler said he would run in the Campbell where he figures to be a short-priced favorite.

Page McKenney won the 1 1/16-mile Native Dancer at Laurel on Jan. 21 following a nine-month injury-related layoff.

“He’s doing great,” Eppler said. “I’m really tickled about how he’s coming up to this weekend.”

Page McKenney, 7, was claimed by Eppler and owner Adam Staplefor $16,000 in July 2013 and has since won 16 races and more than $1.4 million.

Charitable Annuity, who did not fire his best shot when sixth behind Page McKenney in the Native Dancer, and the late-running Bodhisattva, who came rolling late to be second, may be offer the favorite his sternest challenges. Turco Bravo and Souper Lucky, who will each be returning from layoffs, also are prime contenders.

◗ Winter, who races for trainer Cal Lynch, beat four of her six opponents in the Maryland Racing Media last time out in the Nellie Morse Stakes. But one of the new players in this race, Wait Your Turn, is the likely favorite and horse to beat.

Wait Your Turn, trained by Rudy Rodriguez, has won three of her four starts. She earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure while scoring a 9 1/2-length win in her most recent start, a second-level optional-claiming race at Aqueduct on Dec. 16.

◗ The Miracle Wood is an interesting race. High Roller upset O Dionysus in the Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes on Jan. 21, but O Dionysus gave eventual Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry all he could handle before dropping a nose decision in the Dec. 31 Marylander Stakes. Throw in New York shipper Everybodyluvsrudy, and you’ve got a horse race.

I side with the still-maturing O Dionysus, who is trained by Gary Capuano and will be ridden by Jevian Toledo.