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Clement's cold spell is history
HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA. - What began as an atypical Gulfstream Park meet for trainer Christophe Clement has returned to normal over the past month. And it could get even better next weekend when the Clement sends out major players in both the $200,000 Pan American and Orchid handicaps.
Clement had won just two races through the middle of February but over the past month has saddled six winners from his last 20 starters, including Moon Queen, who easily captured the Grade 3 The Very One Handicap. Clement won the De La Rose Handicap earlier in the meet with Veil of Avalon.
Moon Queen will again be the horse to beat next Sunday in the Grade 2 Orchid, which figures to have a short field and may also include another Clement-trained horse, Julie Jalouse.
"I thought Moon Queen was very impressive the way she won her last," Clement said, referring to her 6 1/2-length triumph in The Very One. "Julie Jalouse is a true stayer. We'll find out how good she is after this race."
Moon Queen was a Group 2 winner in France prior to shipping to this country. The Very One was her first start since coming to Clement's barn. Julie Jalouse won 2 of 7 starts in Ireland as a 3-year-old and will be making her U.S. debut if she runs in the Orchid.
Clement plans to start Honor Glide in the 1 1/2-mile Pan Am. The 8-year-old Honor Glide has dropped his last three starts since winning Woodbine's Niagara Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 1.
"I sent him down to work over the Gulfstream turf course on Thursday," said Clement, who has had Honor Glide stabled at Payson Park this winter. "Working him on the turf nine or 10 days before his race is a tactic that has worked well with him in the past. I wanted to try something different than I've been doing lately since he's been disappointing the way he's run recently."
Jockey Jose Santos, who will ride Honor Glide in the Pan Am, worked the horse Thursday and was encouraged by the move.
"I've been riding and working with [Honor Glide] for a long time, and this was as good as he's ever worked," said Santos.
Clement had his recent success on the racetrack tempered this week by the unexpected death of his blacksmith and good friend, Rodney O'Domski, who was stricken by a heart problem on Sunday morning.
O'Domski has served as Clement's regular blacksmith since he first took out his trainer's license 10 years ago. He also worked for trainers Tom Skiffington, Rusty Arnold, Angel Penna Jr., and for the Whiteley family in South Carolina.
"Rodney was a great man and a remarkable blacksmith," said Clement. "He had an amazing life. He originally came to this country as an apprentice blacksmith, returned to Ireland to work several years for the legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien, then came back to America where he went to work for Frank Whiteley and became part of the Whitney legacy of great horses.
"He certainly was a full part of my team for the past decade and played a major role in the careers of some of my best horses, such as England's Legend and Craigsteel."
Injury forces Lady Dora to retire
One horse who will not face Moon Queen in the Orchid is Lady Dora, who was retired earlier this week after an injury suffered in a morning workout last Saturday at Palm Beach Downs.
According to trainer Michael Matz, owner F. Eugene Dixon had decided to allow Lady Dora to run one more year because she had been doing so well.
"She worked so good last Saturday but came out of the work with some cartilage damage," Matz said. "While it wasn't anything serious enough to require surgery, she's too nice a filly to take a chance with by running her again."
Matz said Lady Dora, third in the Long Island Handicap, would be sent to Claiborne Farm, where she will be bred later this spring.
Hennig moving to Monmouth
For the first time in about eight years, trainer Mark Hennig will have a second string of horses at Monmouth Park and not Churchill Downs.
Hennig, based at Belmont Park most of the year, normally has kept about 16 to 18 horses in Kentucky in the spring and fall with assistant Rob Rader. That string will head to Monmouth soon, according to Hennig.
"There are a few reasons," said Hennig. "The logistics are a lot better. We didn't keep horses at Churchill during the summer [when Ellis Park is open], so that made for a lot of moving around for the help. At Monmouth, we'll be more consolidated on the East Coast, and it'll be easier to move horses around. It also gives us more options in overnight races and stakes."
Hennig said most of his clients are based in the East, including his main client, Edward Evans. "Mr. Evans is starting to have more of his mares drop their foals in Virginia instead of Kentucky, which means we'll have fewer horses eligible for [Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses]," he said.
Hennig, a former D. Wayne Lukas assistant, went out on his own in 1992 and trained for about two years in California. While based in New York, he has always had a second string in Kentucky.
McPeek's barn breaks slump
While Ken McPeek has spent a lot of his time this winter focusing on his three top 3-year-olds - Repent, Harlan's Holiday, and Take Charge Lady - the rest of his stable had not been doing that hot. After the third race Thursday, McPeek's runners had compiled a meager 1 for 26 record at this meet.
But then McPeek won back-to-back allowance races later on the Thursday card, which brought a big smile to his face the next morning.
"I think we're just starting to heat up," he said.
The Thursday winners were Saint Damien and Seattle Night. Saint Damien was particularly impressive in winning at 1 1/16 miles, earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure by finishing in 1:42.86.
"I think this could be his year," said McPeek. "He's a physically gifted horse, but he went a little flat on me last year, and I never could quite figure out why. I'm going to nominate him to both the Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn handicaps and see how the weights are."
McPeek said his mini-slump at Gulfstream was due partly to not having his best horses here. "I turned 12 of them out right after the Churchill fall meet, and we weren't really ready when we got down here," he said.
- The next big race here is the $200,000 Pan American Handicap, the Grade 2 race that long has been the premier grass race of the Gulfstream meet. Prospects for the 1 1/2-mile race include Cetewayo, Honor Glide, and Whata Brainstorm.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee