10/27/2011 2:27PM

Breeders' Cup Clocker: Stacelita's eye protected during turf work at Belmont

Barbara D. Livingston
The 2-year-old Dullahan builds stamina by galloping two miles Thursday at Churchill Downs.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Approximately a half-inch of rain fell over the New York metropolitan area Wednesday night into Thursday morning, forcing New York Racing Association officials to move Thursday’s five turf races at Belmont Park to the main track.

However, NYRA officials offered horsemen with Breeders’ Cup horses the opportunity to use the inner turf course for morning workouts on Thursday. Trainers Chad Brown and Phil Serpe were both planning to work their Breeders’ Cup horses on Friday, but with more rain forecast Thursday afternoon, neither wanted to breeze over too soft a course.

Though steady rain was falling throughout the morning Thursday, the turf course did open at 9 a.m. Three sets of orange traffic cones were up, forcing the workouts to be conducted on the outer part of the inner turf course, which is rarely used for racing.

Stacelita, likely to be among the top three betting choices in the Filly and Mare Turf, was the most high-profile horse to work. Stacelita, who worked in company with Juvenile Fillies Turf contender Dayatthespa, wore a plastic protective cover over her left eye as a result of an infection for which she is being treated after having been hit with a turf divot winning the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational here on Oct. 1.

Stacelita (five furlongs in 1:02.96): Brown said he noticed a few days after the Flower Bowl that Stacelita’s left eye was not 100 percent and began treating it accordingly on the advice of veterinarians. He did not begin using the protective eye cover until Monday.

“It’s just lingered around more than the average amount of time for that injury,’’ Brown said. “We’ve had several people looking at it. It looks pretty good to me now, but we feel the eye is still a little bit sensitive and I don’t want to take any chances leading up to the race that something hits the eye or sets me back.’’

In Thursday’s work, Stacelita started two lengths behind Dayatthespa, a New York-bred filly who won her debut sprinting at Saratoga before finishing second in the Grade 3 Natalma at Woodbine. Stacelita went her first quarter in 26.04 seconds and three furlongs in 39.88 seconds with jockey Ramon Dominguez high in the saddle.

It appeared briefly that Dominguez was going to go inside of Dayatthespa, but ultimately pulled her outside in upper stretch. It wasn’t until just above the sixteenth pole that Stacelita collared Dayatthespa and she finished about a neck in front under minimal urging. Dayatthespa was credited with a final time of 1:03.42. Stacelita stayed about three-quarters of a length in front during the gallop out.

Brown said that the eye issue has not impacted Stacelita’s training.

“Her attitude has been terrific. I haven’t seen anything change in her demeanor or her training,’’ Brown said. “I just want to be cautious. I’m told that the eye can remain a little sensitive if something hits it. Especially with yielding turf today and her using a workmate ahead of her, I didn’t want to take took a chance on yielding turf and a divot hit the eye I’d miss the race.’’

Brown said Stacelita would likely train with the protective cup at Churchill Downs, but he would prefer not to run her in it, though he added “it’s not out of the question,’’ that she would wear it in the race.

Dayatthespa (five furlongs in 1:03.42): She broke off two lengths in front of Stacelita and remained steady through the move. She was not simply a rabbit, if you will, for Stacelita, and did try to stay with her when Stacelita went by.

Brown said that sometimes horses that win first-time out become “rank front-runners’’ when they’re stretched out in distance. He said that is not the case with Dayatthespa.

“Even Ramon commented – and he breezed her last week – on how well she can turn off the bridle if you want her to,’’ Brown said. “That gives me a lot of confidence on stretching out.’’

Fantastic Song (five furlongs in 1:01.92): This Juvenile Turf contender showed in his work that he would be adversely affected if the turf comes up soft on Breeders’ Cup Day.

Fantastic Song, with Javier Castellano up, began the breeze two lengths behind an eager Desert Sage, who was ridden by exercise rider Richard Johnson. Desert Sage sped through fractions of 24.50 and 37.43 seconds and still came home in a sprightly 24.16 seconds for a final time of 1:01.25.

Meanwhile, Fantastic Song switched to his incorrect lead in the stretch before switching back late in the work.

Brown equipped Fantastic Song with blinkers for the work, but they didn’t put him on the bridle as much as Brown had hoped and thus he won’t wear them in the race.

“We’ve been tinkering with them a little bit, but after talking to the jockey he just feels leave him alone, his two races were okay without them,’’ Brown said.

Brown said he will likely have Castellano take Fantastic Song farther off the pace than he was in the Grade 3 Pilgrim.

Pure Gossip (five furlongs in 1:08.40): This Juvenile Fillies Turf contender was the first horse on the course shortly after 9 a.m. with exercise rider Lisa Bartkowski.

Since she handled soft turf so well in winning the Miss Grillo, one might have expected a bit more from this 2-year-old New York-bred filly in her last work. She went off a in pedestrian fractions of 14.71 seconds, 29.19, and 43.63 for the three furlongs. She did come home in 24.77, but it would have been disappointing had she not come home well.

Trainer Phil Serpe said since Pure Gossip went five furlongs in 59.67 seconds over the turf on Oct. 18, he was only looking for a leg-stretcher on Thursday.

“That’s all we wanted. She had a big work last week, we want her to go there fresh,’’ Serpe said. “She came back good, really fresh, that’s what we want.’’

Jackson Bend (four furlongs in 47.50): At Saratoga, over a wet track labeled good, Jackson Bend went in fractions of 12.06 seconds, 23.60, and he galloped out five furlongs in 59.84 seconds. Trainer Nick Zito said he put Our Dark Knight out in front of Jackson Bend “as a little target’’ Zito said Jackson Bend “looked really, really good doing it and he galloped out great.’’

Ice Box (five furlongs in 59.68 seconds): Saratoga clockers timed Ice Box in splits of 11.88 seconds, 23.28, and 47.38. Ice Box is pre-entered in the Classic and though he is first on the preference list he is expected to make it into the field.

Churchill Downs

Track: Sloppy Weather: Drizzling Temperature: 53

A sloppy main track plus a softened turf course added up to zero when it came to counting the number of Breeders’ Cup contenders to work at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning.

Steady showers that began shortly after training hours on Wednesday and continued through the night limited the action among Breeders’ Cup runners to routine gallops or in a few cases easy jogs around the wet oval on Thursday. Most of that activity came, as it has for much of the past week, under the lights and well before dawn broke shortly before 8 a.m.

Among the horses I haven’t reported on to date who made a favorable impression splashing around the main track were Dullahan (Juvenile Turf or Juvenile) and Courageous Cat (Mile).

Dullahan was the last of the Breeders’ Cup horses to train on Thursday and among the busiest. Dullahan, who won his maiden in the Grade 1 Futurity at Keeneland in his most recent start, galloped with high energy twice around the one-mile oval, looking as fresh and strong the second time past the grandstand as the first. He has a hint of turf action in his stride but not the classic luck of a grass runner, although to date his best performances have come either on turf or Polytrack.

Courageous Cat (Mile) appears to have come out of his turf work on Monday none the worse for wear and made a very solid visual impression during his routing gallop for trainer Bill Mott. His stablemate, To Honor and Serve (Classic), appeared less headstrong than the previous morning, especially turning into and when making his way down the stretch, perhaps an indication that he’s finally getting used to the outside cup blinker he has now worn for the past three mornings.

Although Uncle Mo (Classic) has raced exclusively on dirt, he does have the high strided action of a horse who might also excel on grass. As a result, he seemed to hit the wet ground a little harder than the others when passing under the finish line both at the beginning and after completing the opening mile of another sharp 1 1/4-mile gallop. Uncle Mo was definitely the more aggressive of owner Mike Repole’s two Classic hopefuls to train immediately after the racetrack opened at 6 a.m. along with Stay Thirst y (Classic).

Sidney’s Candy (Mile/Dirt Mile) had the easiest morning of trainer Todd Pletcher’s Breeders’ Cup brigade, jogging a mile the wrong way alongside the stable pony in his first day back to the track after working a half-mile over the turf on Tuesday. Another Pletcher horse, Super Espresso (Ladies Classic), appeared to move a little better over the wet track than she had the previous morning on drier ground.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch