02/16/2013 3:04PM

Laurel Park: Brigand has General George in his sights

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Brigand showed he likes the Laurel surface with this victory in the City of Laurel in December.

When trainer Bob Baffert made the decision to leave Brigand on the East Coast for the winter, it was, in large part, with the Grade 3 General George Handicap in mind.

Thus far, everything has gone according to plan for the New York-bred Brigand, who looks to be the horse to catch and beat in Monday’s $250,000 General George at Laurel Park.

Brigand, a son of Flatter purchased for $925,000 at auction by Kaleem Shah, will look to become the fourth New York-bred in the last nine runnings to win the General George. Well Fancied (2004), Bustin Stones (2008), and Yawanna Twist (2012) were the others.

Brigand, originally based in Southern California, has won four of his last five starts – all on the East Coast – including a one-length victory in the City of Laurel Stakes at the General George distance of seven furlongs on Dec. 8.

“Our idea when we went down to Laurel last time was to see if he liked the track with the General George in mind,” said Tonja Terranova, who since last summer has overseen Brigand’s training for Baffert. “Everything has played out perfectly up to this point. The spacing has been great. We kept him a fresh horse so we’ll go to this one and then see what Bob thinks after that.”

After the City of Laurel, Brigand won the one-mile Turnofthecentury Stakes for New York-breds to prep for the General George. Brigand’s last two starts have come without blinkers, equipment removed after he went too fast early before being caught late by Guilt Trip in a first-level open allowance race at Belmont on Oct. 27.

“After that race when Joel [Rosario] sent him out of the gate and he went so fast we made the decision to take them off,” Terranova said. “It’s kind of settled him a little bit. He’s out on the lead, but he’s doing it pretty much in hand and easy.”

For the third straight race, Brigand will break from the rail. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be up.

Brigand’s sternest rival would appear to be directly to his outside in Il Villano, who, like Brigand, seeks his first graded stakes win. Il Villano has won four stakes, including the Dave’s Friend at Laurel on Dec. 29.

While Il Villano has done his best work at six furlongs, trainer Susan Crowell doesn’t believe the extra furlong will be an issue.

“I know he likes to run three-quarters but I don’t think seven-eighths is going to be a problem for him,” Crowell said. “He can sit off the pace or he can be on the lead. I’m expecting Baffert’s horse to go to the lead; hopefully, we can sit right behind him. He’s going to get a little vacation after this race. I hope he wins and then he can drop his head and eat some grass for a while.”

Associate ships up from Florida for Michelle Nevin, the former assistant to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who ran 1-2 last year with Yawanna Twist and This One’s for Phil. In his most recent start, the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream, Associate finished seventh after dueling for the lead when breaking from the rail. Drawn in post 4, he could be another pace factor under Erick Rodriguez.

Fiddlers Afleet, a 7-year-old New York-bred son of Northern Afleet, was fourth in the Dave’s Friend. He makes his second start since being claimed for $75,000 by Rudy Rodriguez.

Isn’t He Perfect, who ran second in Saturday’s Moro Stakes at Aqueduct, could run back Monday, trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal said prior to the Moro.

Javerre, Thunder Lord, and Broad Rule complete the General George field.