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Arson Squad at home in Florida
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Rick Dutrow said he's never seen Arson Squad happier than he's been since arriving in south Florida earlier this winter. That might be bad news for his nine rivals, including Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Albertus Maximus and multi-Eclipse Award finalist Einstein, in Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap.
Arson Squad turned in a couple of big efforts after transferring to Dutrow's barn and getting back on conventional dirt during the fall, winning the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup and finishing a troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile to close out his 2008 campaign. Dutrow believes that when the Nick Zito-trained Wanderin Boy broke down turning for home, it may have cost Arson Squad the race.
"Zito's horse broke down when we were moving, and Arson Squad had to swing wide and it really cost us," Dutrow said. "I think we probably would have won, if we'd have been able to keep a straight course."
Dutrow said Arson Squad, who won Santa Anita's Grade 2 Strub in 2007, seems to really love the Gulfstream Park main track.
"He might want a little tighter track than Aqueduct, and I think he likes this track much better," Dutrow said. "His personality has also changed since he got down here. He's more playful and happier than before. I've never seen him like this."
Ridden by Edgar Prado, Arson Squad will carry 119 pounds in the 1o1/8-mile Donn, three less than Einstein (Julien Leparoux) and a pound less than Albertus Maximus (Alan Garcia). The remainder of the field includes Finallymadeit (Eduardo Nunez), Anak Nakal (Joe Bravo), Bullsbay (John Velazquez), A. P. Arrow (Kent Desormeaux), On Board Again (Eibar Coa), Sir Whimsey (Robby Albarado), and Great Hunter (Javier Castellano).
Three-year-olds share the spotlight
The Donn will share top billing Saturday with the Grade 3 Holy Bull, which drew a surprisingly large field of 11 3-year-olds led by West Side Bernie and Beethoven, both of whom took the worst of it at the post-position draw. West Side Bernie will break from post 10 and Beethoven post 11, with a short run to the first turn going 1 1/8 miles.
In post position order, the field also consists of Bruce N Autumn, Danger to Society, Bear's Rocket, Saratoga Sinner, El Crespo, Rockland, Stately Character, Idol Maker, and Nowhere to Hide.
Saturday's card also will feature the much anticipated debut of Barbaro's baby brother, Nicanor, who begins his career in a one-mile allowance race, as well as the 3-year-old debut of the highly regarded Well Positioned, who takes on six rivals going a mile under entry-level allowance conditions in the opener.
Kip Deville drills for Gulfstream Turf
Dutrow was busy between races Wednesday, sending out former Breeders' Cup winner Kip Deville to work five furlongs in 1:05.75 over a firm course with jockey Cornelio Velasquez aboard. The rail was out 84 feet for the work.
Kip Deville will launch his 2009 campaign as the heavy favorite in Sunday's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf.
Cool Coal Man scores in allowance
Cool Coal Man returned to the scene of his finest hour, his victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth one year ago, to register an impressive tally in Wednesday's allowance feature under jockey Jose Lezcano.
Cool Coal Man, who also was third behind Big Brown in the Grade 1 Haskell at 3, was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Jerome on Oct. 5.
"I thought that was tremendous," said Zito, who trains Cool Coal Man for owner Robert LaPenta. "Just like the Fountain of Youth. He really loves this track. I told Jose that with Talent Search scratched, there wasn't a lot of speed, so keep him in the game early. Turning for home, we had only Bold Start to beat, and I knew he just didn't have the class this horse has."
Zito said he could bring Cool Coal Man, who is now perfect in three starts at Gulfstream, back in the one-mile Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 14.
"The timing is good for that race," Zito said. "I always loved this horse, and if he stays healthy he could have a big year."
Checklist, Brave Victory meet in sprint
Sandwiched between Friday afternoon's two graded stakes for 3-year-olds - the Forward Gal and Hutcheson - is a six-furlong, entry-level allowance dash for 3-year-olds that matches the undefeated Checklist and Zito's Grade 1 performer Brave Victory.
Checklist led at every call en route to a convincing four-length maiden special weight win when debuting here opening day. The son of Gone West earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure for the victory.
Brave Victory posted the same figure earning his diploma at Belmont Park late last summer after receiving a 91 Beyer when second behind the well-regarded Regal Ransom four weeks earlier at Saratoga. Brave Victory finished a distant seventh following an unlucky beginning in the Grade 1 Champagne.
Checklist is owned by the Starlight Partners Stable. Starlight also is part owner in stakes winners Monba and Why Tonto, both of whom have been working steadily in preparation for returns from lengthy layoffs.
Monba, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass at 3, has been away since finishing far back in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Why Tonto has been idle since winning the Hallandale Beach Stakes over the turf here last February.
Monba and Why Tonto both worked over a firm turf course at Palm Meadows on Wednesday. Monba went seven furlongs in 1:31.20, while Why Tonto breezed five furlongs in 1:02.60.
Wrong-way training commences
For a half-hour beginning at 9:30oa.m. Wednesday, Gulfstream Park opened the main track only to horses whose trainers wanted them to train in a clockwise direction, opposite of the way races are run. The request was granted at the suggestion of several trainers, including Ken McPeek, following a recent weekly meeting with track management.
"It's better for the horses, for their mind and body, to be able to do that," McPeek said. "When I had Hard Buck and was getting him ready for the King George in England, we trained him right-handed, and it was like he found another gear.
"He enjoyed it. It was a like a new phase for him. It kind of opened my eyes up. You want to keep them going longer. Whatever it takes."
About a dozen horses trained during the time the track was open exclusively for clockwise training, including runners trained by Rick Dutrow, Mike Maker, McPeek, and Wesley Ward.
Not everyone was enamored with the change.
"There's eight horses out here, and it screwed up the training for 50 others," trainer John Kimmel said. "I sent one out here now because I couldn't get all my sets out before the track closed for regular training."
Dream Empress eyes English Oaks
McPeek said Dream Empress, winner of the Alcibiades Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland, is being pointed to the English Oaks, rather than the Kentucky Oaks, and will be kept on turf for the time being.
Dream Empress defeated maidens on turf last summer at Saratoga and was second on a synthetic surface in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. However, she was a distant fourth in her lone start on dirt, at Churchill Downs, in the Golden Rod Stakes in November.
"She's kind of a big, leggy filly," McPeek said. "She won on Polytrack and on turf. I don't think dirt is her game. After we leave here, I'll be able to train her on my farm in Kentucky over the hills and rolling gallops to get her used to that. And the purse of the English Oaks is huge, like three times the Kentucky Oaks."
- additional reporting by Jay Privman