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The seven-time Calder riding champion returned home this past week for the remainder of the year and couldn't have gotten off to a better start, winning with his first three mounts and four overall last weekend. He will be among the favorites to capture his eighth local title along with Manny Cruz and apprentice Luis Saez during the upcoming Tropical at Calder session.
Longtime Calder favorite ran off three consecutive victories over a two-day period here last week, including both ends of a $272.20 daily double with 2-year-olds Forgiven and Rake and a Rambler on Oct. 2. The winningest female trainer in track history, O'Connell is in the midst of another big meet, with last week's pure hat trick moving her into third place in the standings behind only Bill White and Marty Wolfson and leaving her just one victory shy of 1,200 lifetime wins. Best horses in the barn include 2-year-olds Wave Me By and Fly by Phil.
South Florida horsemen
Nobody was "hotter" here this past week than local owners and trainers after receiving the news that track management had slashed purses 15 percent and also made cuts to the stakes schedule totaling another $400,000. It's not hard to understand their frustration. Hopefully, business will return to normal levels this month, and so too will the purses before too long.
WACKY RACE OF THE WEEK
The wackiest race of the week is one that never actually took place, a race originally scheduled at a mile and 70 yards as the 11th and feature event on last Saturday's marathon 13-race program. Unfortunately, a series of bizarre events that transpired at the starting gate and shortly thereafter left the stewards little recourse but to declare the event a noncontest and refund all wagers.
The troubles began when Seaside Affair lunged forward and broke through his stall in the starting gate, at which point the assistant starter did his job by grabbing hold of the horse to prevent him from breaking loose. Unfortunately, that all happened a fraction of a second before starter Jeff Powell sprung the latch.
Confusion reigned. Three of the other six horses in the gate came away cleanly and began their run past the wire and toward the clubhouse turn, while two others were held in the gate by assistant starters reacting to the original incident. To compound the issue, one of the outriders set out after the three members of the field who had gotten away cleanly, instructing their jockeys to pull up as a result of the false start. Two were reigned in within approximately an eighth of a mile, but the third, even-money favorite Spirit Seeker, ran more than a quarter-mile before being brought to a halt by apprentice Luis Saez.
After weighing the options for several minutes, the stewards made the only decision possible at that point, with nearly half the field already having run anywhere from an eighth- to a quarter-mile. They called the race a no-contest.
There was a distinct bias on the main track here Saturday and Sunday, with speed horses and others running on or near the rail proving to be at a disadvantage racing in what was seemingly the deeper portion of the course. How blatant was the bias? Following Bridesmaid in Silk's improbable wire-to-wire victory in Saturday's opener, there was not a single front-running winner over the entire weekend on the dirt - the closest being What a Prince, who dueled for the lead with Hellen's Choice while racing out in the better going before drawing away to an impressive maiden win in Saturday's eighth race.
Among the speed horses trapped against the bias and worth a look next time are La Monda, Starship Voyage, Cat Ferrad, the aforementioned Hellen's Choice, See I A, Meadow Touch, Suave Royalty, Green Lite Special, and Funny Buck.
No stakes racing again this weekend, but nominations are out for the big Festival of the Sun card on Oct. 17, which will feature Jackson Bend's bid to sweep the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes in the $400,000 In Reality Stakes.
The In Reality shares top billing on the card with the $400,000 My Dear Girl for 2-year-old fillies. Other stakes include the Grade 3 Spend a Buck Handicap, a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, the Grade 3 Calder Derby, Calder Oaks, Cassidy, and Birdonthewire stakes.
Among the top nominees for the Spend a Buck are stablemates It's a Bird, Motovato, and You and I Forever as well as Mambo Meister, Temo's Dream, Cinnamon Road, and Stately Character. Perhaps the most interesting prospect for the race is the 4-year-old filly Lady Shatzi, who was a Group 1 winner in her native Peru earlier this summer and would be making her first start in the United States if she goes, as expected, in the Spend a Buck.
Some horses to watch off sharp recent works competing on Saturday's card include:
* Volador (2nd race): Speedy 3-year-old zipped three furlongs in 35.32 seconds and galloped out a half in 48.66 in preparation for his first start since July 23 and second career try on grass. Will reunite with Cruz, who guided this colt to an easy maiden special weight tally late last spring. May stand some catching if he handles the grass.
* Tutor (9th race): Has failed to show the same type of speed in his last two starts he displayed defeating promising youngster Fly by Phil in his debut, but has zipped along in the morning on several occasions since a troubled trip in the Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash. Ran away from four others out of the gate last Sunday, covering his first three-eighths in 34.95 before galloping out a half in 48.23. Interestingly, he was not equipped with blinkers for this work, although he ran in blinkers in his previous start.
* A P Magic (10th race): Has been away since finishing third at 32-1 in the Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 10. May need a race first time back, this being only his fourth published work since the outing, although he did finish willingly enough going five furlongs in 1:01.56 with the dogs out near the middle of the course and while under only mild urging. He was readily pulling away down the stretch from workmate Sweetlandofliberty.
* Video Vixen (12th race): Another who has been idle for a long time and likely to need one off the bench. He easily won a set of three from the gate on Oct. 1 while covering a half-mile in 49.48 without need of urging. Bred for the grass. Might be worth a look at a price.
* Other works of note this past week: Mambo Meister cruised a half-mile in 49.23 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.06 from the gate under Cruz in preparation for a possible start in the Spend a Buck. You Luckie Mann turned in the last in a series of impressive works on Monday for Saturday's Gallant Bob Stakes at Philadelphia Park. Although going a half-mile in just 50 seconds, he completed his final quarter in 23.44 before galloping out an additional eighth around the turn to the seven-furlong pole in 12.55. Stretch-runner could spring an upset at Philly Park if he gets some help with the pace.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Bertrell Vaz
Last race: Oct. 2, 9th
Finish: 4th by 3 1/2
He held a decisive Beyer edge on turf over his field but he did not get the smoothest of trips with triple-bug rider aboard and could not take advantage of the situation. He steadied and was shuffled back while attempting to improve position into the far turn before swinging out and finishing with interest once clear for the drive. Worth trying back against similar first-level optional claiming types with a more experienced pilot aboard.
Trainer: Manny Tortora
Last race: Oct. 3, 2nd
Finish: 2nd by 3 3/4
His attempt to follow another runner through along the inside while rallying on the second turn of a one-mile conditioned claiming event blew up in his face when that rival backed up suddenly approaching the quarter pole. He lost valuable momentum when forced to take up and did well to get up for second money while chasing home nemesis Red Hot Candy for the second time in as many starts.
Five Star D J
Trainer: Steve Dwoskin
Last race: Oct. 3, 4th
Finish: 4th by 6 3/4
A bad post, slow start, and trouble on the opening turn put this colt at a disadvantage right from the outset, and although he made a big middle move to reach contention down the backstretch, there just wasn't enough left in the tank, especially after he ran into some more traffic trouble turning for home. Add the fact he had worked just once since his previous start seven weeks earlier, and this looks like a horse worth giving another chance next time.