01/25/2017 12:36PM

General George or John Campbell next for Page McKenney

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Trainer Mary Eppler must decide which of two stakes on Feb. 18 at Laurel Park are a better fit for Page McKenney.

Page McKenney came out of his comeback victory at Laurel Park last Saturday in good shape and is scheduled to make his next start in one of two Maryland races on Feb. 18, the Grade 3, $250,000 General George or the $75,000 John B. Campbell.

Page McKenney won the seven-furlong General George last year, despite the distance being a little short for him. He won the Campbell at 1 1/8 miles in 2015. Both races will be run on the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie undercard at Laurel.

Page McKenney returned from a nine-month layoff to win last Saturday’s Native Dancer for the second straight year. He is 16 for 31 with earnings of more than $1.4 million since being claimed by owner Adam Staple and trainer Mary Eppler for $16,000 in July 2013.

Page McKenney, 7, had been sidelined with a minor tendon injury since May when he was scratched from the Pimlico Special on race day.

“I’m relieved he won,” Eppler said. “He came back great, his legs are cold and tight. We’re going to run him in either the General George or the Campbell, whichever race I think he fits best.”

Page McKenney had to run hard to win the 1 1/16-mile Native Dancer by 1 3/4 lengths but was in control of the race during the final furlong.

“In the winner’s circle, he wasn’t blowing, which was good,” Eppler said. “He was back to his real normal self Sunday, just walking la-de-da around the shed row looking for mints.”

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There were a few anxious moments pre-race as Page McKenney was more on the muscle than usual.

“He was bad in the receiving barn and bad in the paddock, which is unusual for him,” Eppler said. “He knew he had to run, and I think he was just anxious. He was pawing the ground in the receiving barn and then he lunged out of his stall in the paddock. Normally in the paddock he is so quiet, but I had to re-thread the stirrup leathers and it took longer than usual. It was like he was saying, ‘I’m ready, what’s your problem?’ ”

When the gates opened, Page McKenney bumped with the horse to his outside and jockey Horacio Karamanos had to ask him a bit to get position. Karamanos, who won four races Saturday, did an excellent job of settling him back down.

Page McKenney raced in third position early, took the lead from pacesetting Warrioroftheroses entering the stretch, drew clear, and then held off a tightly bunched group of challengers.

“He was close to the pace, which is not his normal style,” Eppler said. “He ran the whole race without a breather, like he usually gets. I think having run so close to the pace is going to make him fitter going forward.”

Despite a visually good performance, Page McKenney received only a 79 Beyer Speed Figure, his lowest in 22 races dating back to June 2014.

The race was run over a typically deep Laurel winter surface. It should be noted that Page McKenney’s final time of 1:45.01 was .31 of a second faster than Winter won the $75,000 Nellie Morse in the preceding race. The Native Dancer six-furlong split of 1:13.73, was .35 of a second slower than that of the Nellie Morse, meaning Page McKenney came home quite a bit faster than his filly counterpart.