Apple Picker Makes the Grade in $200k Barbara Fritchie (G3)

Charming Way Becomes Stakes Winner in $100,000 Nellie Morse

BALTIMORE – Michael Dubb’s Apple Picker split tiring pacesetter Disco Ebo to the inside and multiple stakes winner Last Leaf in mid-stretch and drew away to open her 4-year-old season in style with a one-length victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3) at Laurel Park.

The 70th running of the Barbara Fritchie for fillies and mares 4 and older sprinting seven furlongs was the third of four stakes worth $600,000 in purses on a Winter Carnival program co-headlined by the 49th renewal of the $200,000 General George (G3) for 4-year-old and up.

Earlier stakes saw It’s Sizzling Time upset the $100,000 John B. Campbell for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles, and Charming Way win the $100,000 Nellie Morse for fillies and mares 4 and older at 1 1/16 miles.

It was the second stakes win and first in graded company for Apple Picker ($12.40), who snapped a three-race losing streak with her third win from eight starts since joining trainer Brittany Russell last spring. It also provided a bit of redemption for her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, who was aboard when the daughter of Connect ran fourth – a half-length out of third – in the seven-furlong Raven Run (G2) in October at Keeneland.

“I felt bad after the race at Keeneland,” Sheldon Russell said. “I thought I maybe could have gotten her up and at least get her a graded placing, but things happen the way they do and now she’s a graded winner. I’m elated for her and the whole team.”

Disco Ebo, whose three stakes wins all came in front-running fashion, broke sharply and was in front through a quarter-mile in 22.83 seconds pressed to her outside by 13-1 long shot Beneath the Stars. The top two went the half together in 45.32 with Continentalcongres working hard to keep up in third while Apple Picker trailed each of her six rivals.

“That’s her running style. That’s her. But at the end of the day, I was really happy the way she came into it,” Brittany Russell said. “We had this race in mind for quite some time.

“I’ve always loved this filly. She trains great. She touts herself in the morning and, honestly, she shows up in the afternoon,” she added. “She’s had a lot of bad luck but I felt really good about today.”

Sheldon Russell and Apple Picker improved their position on the far turn but straightened for home blocked by a wall of horses. As they began to spread apart Russell was able to move Apple Picker off the inside and had plenty of room to cruise through and win in 1:25.22 over a fast main track.

“Looking at the race [Disco Ebo] was the speed so I wanted to break and follow that horse,” Russell said. “At one point it looked like I was going to have to go all the way outside, but I decided to hold my cards and see what developed and it worked out where we stayed put and then she put in a big run to get there. She’s such a game horse.”

Last Leaf edged late-running Prodigy Doll by a neck for second. It was 1 ¾ lengths back to Disco Ebo in fourth, followed by 4-5 favorite Bluefield, Continentalcongres and Beneath the Stars. Freccia d’Argento and Intrepid Daydream were scratched.

Apple Picker’s previous stakes win came in the six-furlong Weather Vane last September at historic Pimlico Race Course, his fourth start for Russell and first after back-to-back failed turf tries. Following the Raven Run she was second in both the Safely Kept and Willa On the Move, the latter against older horses, beaten a total of 2 ½ lengths.

“It’s a credit to Mike [Dubb] and the team and everyone for allowing us to be patient and do the job we needed to do to get the win today,” Brittany Russell said. “Honestly, we haven’t looked past today. This was the goal so we’ll probably regroup at this stage and see how she comes out of it.”

Charming Way Becomes Stakes Winner in $100,000 Nellie Morse

Troy Johnson and Jagger Inc.’s Charming Way took the lead midway around the far turn and powered through the stretch to her fourth consecutive win and first in a stakes in the $100,000 Nellie Morse.

Charming Way ($6) completed 1 1/6 miles in 1:47.04 over a fast main track to become a stakes winner in her 19th lifetime start and fifth since being claimed for $25,000 last summer at Laurel by trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness.

Hashtag Lucky, a 10-time career winner from 49 prior starts that went off as the longest shot in a field of six at 12-1, led through a quarter-mile in 24 seconds and a half in 48.57, with Charming Way tracking in the two path in second and New Hire third on the rail. Rodriguez gave Charming Way her cue leaving the backstretch and the 5-year-old Maryland-bred mare responded to take over the top spot and extend her advantage to 3 ½ lengths at the wire.

Frosty O Toole was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of New Hire, with 6-5 favorite and multiple stakes winner Hybrid Eclipse a belated fourth. In My Opinion and Hashtag Lucky completed the order of finish. Rosie’s Halo was scratched.

Charming Way, by Blofeld, now has four wins and a second since the barn change. She capped off 2023 with allowance wins going one and 1 1/8 miles in October and November, and launched 2024 with a one-length optional claiming allowance triumph Feb. 2, all at Laurel with Rodriguez aboard.

The Nellie Morse pays tribute to the fourth of just six fillies to win the Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, a feat she accomplished in 1924 just three days after capturing the Pimlico Oaks, now run as the Black-Eyed Susan (G2). As a broodmare her daughter, Nellie Flag, was the champion 2-year-old of 1934 and beaten favorite in the 1935 Kentucky Derby (G1). Descendants of Nellie Morse, through Nellie Flag, include three-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Forego, 1976 Kentucky Derby winner and 3-year-old champion Bold Forbes, and 1943 champion handicap mare Mar-Kell.


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