05/21/2013 12:12PM

Calder: Close It Out to get another crack at Smile Sprint Handicap

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Close It Out wins the Champali Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths at Calder on Saturday for trainer Steve Towne.

MIAMI – After finishing third, just a nose shy of second, in the 2012 Smile Sprint Handicap with Close It Out, trainer Steve Towne is looking forward to getting his star sprinter back to the Grade 2 fixture on Summit of Speed Day here this summer.

Towne laid out a three-step plan that he hopes will end with Close It Out standing in the winner’s circle after the Smile Sprint on July 6. The first step came last weekend, when Close It Out steamrolled to a popular 4 1/2-length win in the Champali Stakes, his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint in February. The win, which came with Manny Cruz aboard, was just his second since the Smile Sprint and his first since running down Bahamian Squall to capture the Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap on Nov. 10.

“That was a pretty easy win on Saturday,” said Towne, who trains Close It Out for owner and breeder Samuel Rogers Jr. “I was very pleased with his performance. In fact, it was one of the best days I’ve ever had because that night was also my daughter’s prom night.”

Towne acknowledged that Close It Out’s job became a lot easier when trainer Marty Wolfson scratched the likely favorite, Wickersheim, to run back in an allowance race here Thursday.

“No doubt, Marty’s horse scratching was a big plus,” Towne said. “But I figured my horse would be very tough, especially in only an eight-horse field. Lots of times he’ll have to come around wide and lose a lot of ground because of his running style when in a big field. But this time, Manny was able to allow him to take an inside path, save ground, and he actually won even more impressively than I expected.”

Towne said Close It Out will take Step 2 on the road to the Smile Sprint when he runs in the six-furlong Ponche Handicap on June 8. Close It Out rallied wide and from last at the top of the stretch to finish third in the 2012 Ponche.

“He’ll go in the Ponche, and if everything goes right with him, it’s back to the Smile again,” Towne said. “Last year, he ran very well, but it was a little disappointing to get beat just a nose like that for second because it cost us $40,000. That’s a lot of money for just a nose.”

Wickersheim also could end up in the Smile Sprint, although he’ll have taken a different route if he does, having been scratched from the Champali for Thursday’s main event, a $28,000 first-level optional claimer at seven furlongs.

Wickersheim has shown marked improvement since switching to Wolfson’s barn this season. He won his maiden by 11 lengths, earning a 96 Beyer Speed Figure on Feb. 17 at Gulfstream before finishing second and third in a pair of one-mile entry-level optional claimers later in the meet. Wickersheim received a 100 Beyer in his last start after futilely chasing home trainer Todd Pletcher’s Ender Knievel on April 3.

Majestic Express, second in his last two starts here, will shorten up from two turns to seven furlongs and is the one to beat Thursday in a field that also includes Unbridled Heat, Ecabroni, Fortin, and Rev It Up among the key contenders.