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Cesare tries to resist Derby fever
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Second of June earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure for his impressive victory in Saturday's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, a performance that has moved him into the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division. But trainer Bill Cesare is not ready to begin making hotel reservations for Kentucky Derby week in Louisville just yet.
"There are still a lot of good horses out there we haven't met yet," Cesare said. "We'll run in the next two here and then see where we stand."
Cesare was referring to the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 14 and the $1 million Florida Derby four weeks later.
"We should have an edge in the next one since most of the good ones haven't run yet this year," said Cesare. "The Florida Derby will be the real test."
Among the horses Second of June could face in the Fountain of Youth are Read the Footnotes, Tapit, Sir Oscar, and at least one of trainer Nick Zito's talented trio of Birdstone, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge.
Cesare said Second of June came out of the Holy Bull in good order but acknowledged he still has some work to do with his colt before the Fountain of Youth.
"He got hot in the paddock and was acting up bad and that bothered me," said Cesare. "I realize a lot of that had to do with the fact that he just wanted to cut loose and run. That was his mind-set, which is a good thing. But you really don't want them acting like that, especially if we're fortunate to make it all the way to Kentucky."
Cesare had brought Second of June over from his Calder base to school in the paddock and gallop over the racetrack prior to the Holy Bull and said he would do so again before the Fountain of Youth.
"He'll come around," said Cesare. "He's still young and immature but he's better than he was the first few times I ran him and he'll get better the more he races."
Pesci's entourage gets good news
Star actor Joe Pesci can go ahead and make his travel plans to be here Saturday for the Sunshine Millions. It took the defection of four horses, but Pesci, the 4-year-old filly who has been sensational in winning both career starts, drew into a 12-horse field entered for the Sunshine Millions Distaff.
Gulfstream officials had listed Pesci as the sixteenth prospect on the list of probable entrants, and trainer Wesley Ward expressed doubts that she would make the field. But much to his delight, four horses dropped out: Friel's for Real, Kiss Me Twice, Super High, and The Candi Queen.
Ward said Pesci, who lives in California, plans to be here Saturday with a sizable group of friends, including fellow movie star Robert De Niro. Pesci, Ward, and Mark Giordano are co-owners in the filly, who won her two starts by a combined 13 1/2 lengths.
Ivanavinalot tries to snap slump
Trainer Kathleen O'Connell is hoping that a return to Gulfstream will be what helps Ivanavinalot get her career back on track. Ivanavinalot won the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes here last March but has lost seven straight races since then and has not finished close to the winner in most of them.
Ivanavinalot, an earner of $641,300, will run in the $500,000 Distaff, one of the deepest races in the eight-race Sunshine Millions program.
"She's actually better physically this year," said O'Connell. "It's all become a mental thing with her. She's shown an adeptness at Gulfstream before, so hopefully she can turn it around."
One of Ivanavinalot's rivals in the Distaff, House Party, worked seven furlongs in 1:28.40 around the dogs over a sloppy track with jockey Jose Santos aboard on Monday. The Distaff will mark House Party's first start around two turns. Trained by Allen Jerkens, House Party finished second behind Harmony Lodge following a slow start in the six-furlong The First Lady Handicap here on Jan. 11.
'The Judge' disliked grass
Trainer Milt Wolfson has waited a whole year to take another shot at the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic with The Judge Sez Who. And he wasn't taking any chances that The Judge Sez Who, a multiple graded stakes winner, might not make it into the field.
"I ran him in an allowance race on the turf here last week for several reasons, not the least of which was to put a little more money in his earnings column in case he needed it to draw into the Classic." said Wolfson. "I also wanted to get a race under his belt since he came out of his previous start with a 104-degree temperature."
Wolfson also said he wanted to see how The Judge Sez Who would handle the grass.
The Judge Sez Who ended up finishing eighth and earning just 1 percent of the purse in his 2004 debut. As things turned out, he didn't need much cash as he was among the 12 horses in the field when the Classic was drawn at Santa Anita on Monday.
"The only thing I accomplished by running him last week was getting the race into him," said Wolfson. "When Cornelio [Velasquez] got off, the first thing he said to me was 'This horse needs to be on the outside.' I thought he was telling me he needed to be racing outside other horses. What he really meant was that he needed to race on the outside course, the dirt track, and that he doesn't want any part of the grass."
The Judge Sez Who was among the favorites in the 2003 Classic but finished fourth behind Best of the Rest. He started just once more, in April, before going to the sidelines with a knee injury that required surgery, and did not return to the races until mid-November, when he finished third, again behind Best of the Rest, in Calder's Carl G. Rose Classic.
The Judge Sez Who then ran sixth in the Grade 3 F.W. Hooper Handicap at Calder Dec. 27, an effort that puzzled Wolfson.
"I couldn't believe he ran so poorly in the Hooper until I came into the barn the next morning, saw he hadn't eaten his dinner, and discovered he had a temperature of 104," Wolfson said.
* The long-range weather forecast for the greater Miami area for Saturday calls for a high of about 69 and a 10 percent chance of rain.
Court back after freak accident
Jockey Jon Court counts himself extremely lucky, and not just because of the good fortune he experienced at the end of last year.
By a fraction of an inch, Court recently escaped what could have been a traumatic injury. A horse he was scheduled to ride in the first race Jan. 14 became fractious in the Gulfstream walking ring, throwing Court into a thick bush. A branch tore through the upper part of Court's right ear, nearly severing the ear.
"If the branch had gone through just a little bit lower, who knows how bad it might have been," said Court.
As it was, Court underwent surgery to have the ear reattached. He missed several days of riding before returning Sunday, when he still had about 40 stitches in the ear. "They basically had to reconstruct it," said Court.
The accident occurred less than two months after Court scored the richest victory of his career by riding Fleetstreet Dancer in the $2.1 million Japan Cup Dirt.
Velasquez wins four straight
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez won four straight races over two days last weekend. Velasquez ended the Saturday card by winning the Holy Bull Stakes aboard Second of June ($7.60) and a turf allowance race on Bombay Lad ($5.80), then came right back Sunday to win the first two races with Bag of Mischief ($4.20) and Parisian Trip ($5.80).
Velasquez's four in a row came right on the heels of a similar tear for John Velazquez, who on Friday won the last four races.
Edge to Bush in this battle
Gulfstream president Scott Savin, speaking at the Sunshine Millions breakfast draw, gave a sneak preview into what NBC Sports producers are working on for their opening to the two-hour broadcast (Saturday, 4-6 p.m. Eastern).
Savin said the proposed opening depicts Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida "squaring off" against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.
Florida-breds are likely to defeat the California-bred contingent in the points system in the Sunshine Millions competition. Savin said, "It looks like this is the kind of fight that Gov. Bush can win."
- additional reporting by Marty McGee