Two years ago, Acting Happy was one of the better three year-old fillies in the country. She won the Black Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico in May and followed that up with consecutive third-place finishes in a pair of G1 races: the Coaching Club Oaks and the Alabama, both at Saratoga. In the latter race, she was beaten two lengths for all the money, just behind Blind Luck and Havre de Grace in one of their epic battles.
This past Saturday, she made her return from a one-year layoff in the Maryland Racing Media Association Stakes at Laurel, an $80,000 affair for fillies and mares going nine furlongs on the main track. It seemed like a confident move by trainer Rick Dutrow — shipping her in from her base at Gulfstream to resume racing in stakes company — and bettors sent her off as the 6-5 favorite. For much of the race, that seemed prescient, but when the real running began in the last quarter, it turned out she had no answers: she never did catch early leader Pilot Point Lady, and those two ceded leadership to eventual winner Lacie Slew and local heroine Baltimore Belle.
It was no great surprise that the Maryland horsefolks were rooting for Baltimore Belle. She’s a Maryland-bred daughter of Bowman’s Band with all local connections in owner Larry Johnson and trainer Mike Trombetta; she’s a multiple stakes-winner at Laurel who’s made the vast majority of her starts in the Free State. She’s a hard-hitter who almost always gives a solid effort.
More interesting (to me, at any rate) was the negative response to Acting Happy, or, more specifically, her trainer. Dutrow, the son of legendary Maryland trainer Dick Dutrow — one of the state’s fabled Big Four trainers of the 1960s and 1970s — has experienced success and controversy in nearly equal measures in his career. Even his greatest moments — winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown with Big Brown — come with a side of ugliness; in that case, of course, was the controversy over his (legal) use of steroids and then the horse’s baffling no-show in the Belmont. Dutrow is the ne’er-do-well who’s done very well, indeed, but you don’t have to prod — or even ask, really — to get folks who remember his Maryland days to regale you with not-so-nice stories. Perhaps he’s grown and changed from those days, but if he has, it probably won’t change Marylanders’ impressions much; long memories are one thing common to horsemen everywhere.
* Dutrow will get another crack at a local stakes on Saturday when he sends C C’s Pal in to contest the G2 Barbara Fritchie. Nine fillies and mares are slated to tackle the seven-furlong race, which highlights a rare-these-days multi-stakes card. The John B. Campbell, once a nationally important racing fixture, these days ungraded, has drawn a half-dozen horses to fight it out at 1 1/8 miles. The Campbell’s most important recent iteration (here) came in 2009, when future Grade 1 winner Richard’s Kid ran down future Grade 1 winner Bullsbay to earn the hardware. Grade 3 winner Jimanator and 2011 Preakness participant Concealed Identity headline this year’s running.