07/06/2008 11:00PM

Deal in nick of time for Summit of Speed

Email
Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Benny the Bull will be a heavy favorite in Saturday's Smile Handicap.

MIAMI - Perhaps it was only fitting that the debilitating and at times ugly dispute between track management and local horsemen that has cast a pall over Calder Race Course since the meet began on April 21 should finally be settled just hours before entries were drawn Monday for the track's marquee event, Saturday's $1.4 million Summit of Speed.

The new purse contract ratified by horsemen early Monday will immediately return overnight purses, slashed drastically less than a week into the meet, to approximately 90 percent of their original value. Of greater importance to racing fans around the country, it also guarantees them the opportunity to wager on arguably the strongest Summit of Speed program in the eight-year history of the event. Without a purse contract, horsemen had exercised their right to deny Calder management permission to send the track's simulcast signal outside the state of Florida since opening day.

"Everything just fell into place at the same time," said racing secretary Mike Anifantis. "Obviously we're happy to have drawn such outstanding fields in all four graded stakes but I'm equally delighted that now we'll be able to send these races outside the state for all our fans to watch and wager on. It would have been a waste of a great card if we couldn't have gotten our signal out on Saturday."

Although purses for the four graded stakes on the Summit of Speed card had already been cut an aggregate $300,000 due to the purse conflict, it will not deter many of the nation's premier sprinters from heading to Calder on Saturday. The star-studded group is led by Benny the Bull, the top-ranked sprinter in the country, who be will an odds-on favorite in the $400,000 Smile Handicap.

The Smile will share top billing on Saturday with the only Grade 1 race on the Calder stakes schedule, the $400,000 Princess Rooney Handicap. The six-furlong Princess Rooney also drew a stellar lineup, topped by multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Rush; Miraculous Miss, runner-up in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint; and Looky Yonder, recent winner of the Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap.

The signing of the new purse contract also had an effect on two of the undercard stakes on Summit of Speed Day, the J J'sdream and Frank Gomez, both of which had been cut from $100,000 to $36,000 earlier in the meet. The two juvenile stakes will now be worth $50,000 apiece.

Benny the Bull drew post 8 in a field of nine entered for the six-furlong Smile. Benny the Bull is undefeated in four starts since finishing fourth in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Sprint. His streak includes wins in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash, and most recently Belmont Park's Grade 2 True North Handicap, where he gamely wore down pacesetter Man of Danger to prevail by a neck.

Man of Danger, who was scheduled to accompany Benny the Bull on a Tuesday flight to south Florida, was not as fortunate at the draw. He will break from what could be a tough spot on the rail in a field that is loaded with speed.

"It's not really what I wanted," trainer Bruce Levine said upon learning he had drawn post 1 with Man of Danger. "I'll call the owner and go from there, but we don't have too many options and $400,000 is a lot of money for a sprinter, so we'll probably still come and take a shot. His last race was a super effort, but I can't say there was an abundance of speed in there and this one will probably set up a lot better for Benny the Bull. Not that he needs the help."

Both Dream Rush, winner of the Grade 1 Prioress and Test last year at 3, and Miraculous Miss, fifth in the 2007 Princess Rooney, have started just once this season. Dream Rush finished a tiring second behind Looky Yonder in the Vagrancy while Miraculous Miss was a late-running fourth in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.

Indyanne, undefeated and untested in three starts, and Canadian sprint sensation Dancing Allstar figure to knock heads from the outset of the Grade 3, $250,000 Azalea for 3-year-old fillies. Their battle could help the locally based stretch-runner Orinoquia.

The locals also figure to have a big chance in the Grade 2, $250,000 Carry Back with Golden Spikes and Gentleman James heading the home team against the Grade 1-placed Salute the Sarge, multiple Grade 3 winner Lantana Mob, and the multiple stakes winner Carson's Legacy.