With the weather finally coming out of the deep freeze, a pair of $100,000 races are scheduled for Laurel Park Jan. 20.
The 22nd running of the $100,000 Fire Plug, for 4-year-olds and up, and the 32nd running of $100,000 What a Summer, for fillies and mares 4-and-older, will take place at Laurel with temperatures forecasted for what counts as balmy low 50s right about now. Both races are over six furlongs.
In the Fire Plug, two horses to watch are Favorite Tale and Awesome Banner.
Favorite Tale, a 7-year-old gelding, will enter the Fire Plug less than two weeks after winning another six-furlong race (the Dave's Friend) by 1 ¼ lengths.
That win was just the third start in 22 months for Favorite Tale and it was his first triumph since the 2015 Fabulous Strike. In 2015, Favorite Tale won the Grade 2 Smile Sprint and was third in both the Breeders' Cup Sprint and Vanderbilt.
"I'm very proud of him. It's been a long way back. He finally got it done," owner-breeder Paul Conaway said of Favorite Tale. "We bred the horse, we own the mare, so we've had him since he was born. He's very special to us. He's family."
Awesome Banner, a 5-year old, has six career wins and $803,390 in purse earnings from 22 starts. He had a splashy 3-year-old campaign with two graded stakes wins, the Hutcheson and the Swale in the winter, and he won a pair of Florida Sire Stakes in the fall.
Last year, he failed to win in 10 starts but had a fistful of near-misses against tough competition. He was third by a half-length in the Maryland Sprint, second in the Smile Sprint and the A.G. Vanderbilt, and fell a nose short in the Phoenix. Some of the horses he lost to were in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"Through the summer and the fall he's hooked some of the better sprinters in the country, and just got beat a couple times by horses that went to the Breeders' Cup," trainer Ken Decker said. "When things are good for him he puts his best foot forward and they've got to outrun him when he goes in there. Hopefully, we can get that win for him."
As the Fire Plug approached, 12 horses were scheduled to go to the starting gate on Saturday.
In the What a Summer, Angel at War will be making her 4-year-old debut with a gaudy record. She is the daughter of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford.
In her first race ever last year at Delaware Park, she posted an 11-length win. Angel at War continued her winning ways by reeling off five more triumphs by a combined 13 ½ lengths. She had back-to-back wins at Laurel.
Saturday's nine-race card starts with a 12:30 p.m. post for the first race. There is live racing at Laurel this weekend, Jan. 19-21.