Nearing his 400th career winner, Windsor-born JUSTIN NIXON sent out Ed Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s homebred HIBISCUS PUNCH to win the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park in Baltimore Feb. 20. The 6-year-old Into Mischief mare was 41 to 1 and blew away a solid field in the 7 furlong race, just her fourth start since she returned from a one-year layoff.

This was the first graded stakes win for Nixon who scored the biggest win of his career when he trained Coltimus Prime to win the 2014 Prince of Wales Stakes. Nixon took over the training of Hibiscus Punch late in 2020 and the mare had not raced since her first few races at Woodbine in 2019.

The race recap from Laurel follows but first, Canadian Thoroughbred caught up with Nixon the day after his big win.

Justin Nixon talks to the simulcast team at Laurel Park – photo courtesy Scott Wycoff/Twitter

“‘Punch’ came in to us from Solera Farm pretty much ready to run in mid October. Curtis Garrison and the whole Solera team do a great job, they really put the horses first. This mare is a good reflection on Mr. Seltzer’s patience and in his own words, “let’s do the right thing”.

I watched her at Woodbine and she was second to Painting, who as you know is now a graded winner also. She is all class and I thought she was a very nice horse right from the time she arrived. We took a shot on black type in the Willa on The Move Stake, and she ran a big 2nd to Dontletsweetfoolya. She just progressed nicely from there so the Fritchie was a good opportunity to possibly get some graded black type. We thought the race might set up nicely for her and it all worked out. She really ran super we’re very proud of her, and especially happy for Mr. Seltzer and Beverly to get a graded win on a filly they bred.”

From the Maryland Jockey Club: Hibiscus Punch rolled up to dueling favorites Hello Beautiful and Dontletsweetfoolya on the far turn and cruised past once straightened for home, sprinting clear to win the $250,000 race on a stakes-packed day of racing.

Originally scheduled for Feb. 13, Winter Sprintfest was pushed back a week after winter storms passed through the Mid-Atlantic region. Hibiscus Punch ($85.60) was making her graded-stakes debut off an entry-level allowance triumph Jan. 17 at Laurel going six furlongs.

“We just tried not to overdo it with her. She was coming back a bit quick,” said Nixon. “She was coming back in three weeks in the a-other-than and I think the extra week might have helped us.”

Jockey Horacio Karamanos, aboard for each of Hibiscus Punch’s last three starts, earned his third career Barbara Fritchie victory following Lady Sabelia in 2015 and High Ridge Road in 2017.

“I felt like I can win this race because I talked to Justin Nixon when I breezed her last time. She breezed really easy and I told him this filly is good,” Karamanos said. “Last time when we won, I said, ‘She’s got them,’ so I felt very confident. When I sat behind them and I asked her, she came running.

“I see the speed going, the two fillies to beat in front of me. I sat right behind them,” he added. “I had plenty of horse. In the middle of the turn, at the quarter pole, my filly went on her own.”

Hello Beautiful, a five-time stakes winner including each of her last three starts, and Dontletsweetfoolya, a winner of five consecutive races capped by back-to-back stakes, battled on the front end with Dontletsweetfoolya holding a short advantage after a quarter-mile in 22.75 seconds before Hello Beautiful went the half in 45.31 to nudge in front.

Meanwhile, Karamanos had Hibiscus Punch in striking position racing third when he ranged up on the leaders midway around the turn. The 6-year-old Into Mischief mare surged past and kept going, opening up to win by 2 ½ lengths after completing the distance in 1:23.16 over a fast main track.

Estilo Talentoso came running late down the center of the track to get second, 3 ½ lengths ahead of Club Car. Mutliple stakes winner Needs Supervision rallied to edge 2-5 favorite Hello Beautiful by a neck for fourth. Grade 3 winner Sharp Starr was fifth, followed by Dontletsweetfoolya and Suggestive Honor.

“I thought we were in pretty good shape, especially at the three-eighths pole. It looked like she was moving forward pretty well. Horacio gave her a great ride to settle her in and from there it was just good times,” Nixon said.

“He suits her to a ‘T.’ He knows her very well. He won on her in the a-other-than and he came and breezed her last week before all the storms and she breezed dynamite,” he added. “He was very happy and he said seven-eighths wouldn’t be a problem for her.”

Now based at Laurel Park, Hibiscus Punch was making just her eighth career start in the Barbara Fritchie. She made her first four starts in 2019 over the grass and all-weather surfaces at Woodbine, debuting for Nixon off nearly a year layoff last November at Laurel.

Second to Dontletsweetfoolya in the six-furlong Willa On the Move, Hibiscus Punch came back to win her allowance by three lengths.

“We’ll have to talk with Mr. Seltzer and Beverly [about what’s next] and whatever they decide, we’re thrilled,” Nixon said. “They’re so patient and they’re such great people to train for. Really it was their doing, this filly.”

~ with files from MJC