Updated on 09/16/2011 6:38AM

At age 9, Sir Bear as good as ever

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Sir Bear, a fixture of the Gulfstream Park handicap division since 1998, launches yet another winter here Saturday in the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap.

* will seek his third Skip Away title, having won the Grade 3 event when it was still called the Broward Handicap in 1998 and 1999. He passed the race last year to successfully launch his 8-year-old campaign by upsetting the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap later in the meet.

Sir Bear's longevity is almost amazing as his accomplishments over the years. A homebred son of Sir Leon, he is a three time Grade 1 winner of over $2.4 million. The majority of Sir Bear's earnings have come over the past three seasons.

Ralph Ziadie, who trains Sir Bear for owners Barbara and Al Smollin, sees no signs of the gelding slowing down even at the age of 9.

"He still seems as good now as he was last winter," said Ziadie. "We gave him a little time to freshen up the past couple of months since he just doesn't seem to like the Calder track as much as he likes this one. But he's been training well."

The Skip Away is as a prep for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9 but Ziadie says he's uncertain whether he will wheel Sir Bear back in the Donn or wait to defend his title in the 1 1/4-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap seven weeks later. Sir Bear finished third behind Skip Away in the 1998 Donn.

Sir Bear will carry 116 pounds in the Skip Away, two less than starting highweight and likely favorite Red Bullet.

Red Bullet open galloped on Wednesday but was given an official half-mile work of 52 seconds by the clockers.

Trainer Joe Orseno said he is confident Red Bullet, who won his only previous start over the track in 2000, will win the Skip Away and go on to the Donn. Jerry Bailey has the mount.

Stephentown looks impressive

Stephentown wasted little time putting his name at the top of the list of 3-year-olds to keep a close watch on here this winter when he overcame a rough trip to register an impressive five-length victory making his two-turn debut against entry level allowance competition Wednesday.

Stephentown, a $500,000 2-year-old purchase from a family that includes multiple Grade 1 winner Formal Gold, earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure graduating at six furlongs in his 2-year-old finale. He raced rank while in tight quarters for the opening six furlongs on Wednesday before splitting rivals in early stretch and drawing off with authority under Pat Day.

"He was on the bridle and a little unmanageable early but thank God it opened up for him," said Anthony Reinstedler, who trains Stephentown for the Willmott Stables. "Obviously he's still learning and experience is what he needs but there's no doubt he's got the talent. I've had a lot of good horses but he's the nicest colt I've ever trained."

Reinstedler said he is uncertain what will be next for Stephentown.

"Naturally a race like the Fountain of Youth would be something we'll consider and talk about, although for now I just want to see how he is tomorrow before we think about anything else."

In the second division of the entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds, Grey Beard ($23.40) outfinished 3-5 favorite Monthir to win by a nose on the wire. His final time of 1:44.90 for 1 1/16 miles was 0.22 seconds faster than Stephentown's final time.

Equipped with blinkers for the first time, Grey Beard stalked the early pace from the inside under Edgar Prado while Monthir set splits of 23.67 seconds, 47.83, and 1:12.61. Prado guided Grey Beard outside of Monthir at the quarter pole and drew on even terms with him in midstretch. The two brushed inside the eighth pole and Grey Beard just stuck his nose on the wire in the last jump.

Despite adding blinkers, trainer Graham Motion said he was surprised Grey Beard raced that close to the pace. Grey Beard, a son of Unbridled's Song, is owned and bred by George Brunacini.

"``I just told Edgar I'm never giving him instructions again because my thought was to take him back," Motion said. "He's kind of misleading, this horse, because he doesn't show that kind of speed in the morning; he's very laid back. Both times he's run in Kentucky he's come from off the pace so I was surprised he was that sharp, but he gave him a beautiful ride. He's impressive ,this horse; he's an impressive looking horse and he keeps answering the questions every time."

With limited options, Grey Beard will most likely be pointed to the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 16, Motion said.

Hennig's harem grows

When Pleasant County ran away to a 4 1/4-length victory in an entry-level allowance here on Monday she confirmed her quality and became another member of trainer Mark Hennig's loaded stable of fillies and mares.

It was the second straight victory for Pleasant County, a 4-year-old daughter of Pleasant Tap, who earned a Beyer of 92 for her effort.

Hennig explained that Pleasant County fractured a pastern bone as a 2-year-old while training at Saratoga. She required surgery and a lengthy recuperative period before finally making it to the races last fall. After finishing second in her debut on Oct. 25, Pleasant County won her maiden by 10 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct on Nov. 25. Monday's race was Pleasant County's first versus winners as well as her two-turn debut.

"She's been worth the wait," Hennig said. "She was petite as a 2-year-old; she's a big tank now, like Jerome Bettis."

Hennig has at least nine stakes-quality handicap fillies and mares that he will try to keep separated. Pleasant County could run back in the Sabin Handicap here on Feb. 8 as could Tap Dance, who won an off-the-turf allowance race on Monday and earned a Beyer of 96.

Summer Colony, who has won five consecutive races, including the Ladies Handicap in December, could make her next start in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 9. She breezed four furlongs in 49.20 seconds on Wednesday, her first breeze since arriving at Florida in late December.

Unrestrained, who won the Summit Stakes at The Meadowlands, was entered in Friday's Escena Stakes here while AOL Hayes is being pointed to Saturday's Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct.

Raging Fever, a multiple Grade 1 winning 2-year-old in 2000, is slated to make her 4-year-old debut in the First Lady Handicap on Jan. 18. Gold Mover, runner-up as the favorite in the Chaposa Springs at Calder on Dec. 29, is being pointed to the Shirley Jones Handicap on Feb. 15.

With Ability, who finished last in the Interborough Handicap on New Year's Day at Aqueduct, will get an opportunity to stretch out in New York. If she is unsuccessful, she may be retired.

Mystic Lady, a multiple-stakes winning 3-year-old, is receiving a lengthy vacation at Payson Park and may not see action until the spring.

Finally, workouts allowed on turf

The turf course was open for training Wednesday, the first time any horses have worked over the inner oval since the barn area opened in mid-October. Five horses took advantage of the opportunity, including the promising 3-year-old Honor In War, who went five furlongs in 1:03.80 around the dogs.

Honor In War is among the nominees for Monday's inaugural running of the $65,000 Dave Feldman Handicap. A son of Lord at War trained by Paul McGee, Honor In War has won two of his three career starts, including an open allowance race at Churchill Downs in which he defeated stakes winner and odds-on favorite Rylstone.

Among the other turf workers were Worldly Victor (five furlongs in 1:03.40), who is also nominated for the Dave Feldman, and Ettawaasul five eighths in 1:05), who is pointing for the Mac Diarmida Handicap on Jan. 20.

* Eibar Coa left south Florida following the races on Wednesday for Saudi Arabia, where he was scheduled to ride on Friday. Coa was scheduled to return Saturday morning to ride Sir Bear in Saturday's Skip Away Handicap.

- additional reporting by David Grening

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