Updated on 09/17/2011 12:51PM

Excellent Band flies south


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Lori Testerman has been training racehorses in Maryland for 25 years, all of them under the national radar. Testerman did attract 15 minutes of regional fame when a speed demon named Disco Rico knocked out over a half-million dollars in the mid-Atlantic region in the late 1990's, but overall, she remains unknown to the vast majority of racing fans.

So when Testerman leads over Excellent Band for the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park, she will be availing herself to a brand new world. "I've never run a horse here," she said. "I came to the races here a long time ago, and I've been to the sales at Calder. But this is the first time I've run a horse in Florida."

As the winner of 4 of 5 starts, all at six furlongs, Excellent Band figures as a major contender in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid, a Grade 3 race that highlights the Saturday card at Gulf. Testerman said she eventually wants to try Excellent Band at longer distances, "but this is his first graded race, and we wanted to keep him doing something he knew. The tentative plan would be to bring him back for the Hutcheson," a seven-furlong race here Feb. 14, "and then maybe two turns. But we'll have to see what happens here first."

Excellent Band, a Kentucky-bred colt by Dixieland Band, is owned by Roland Reeley, a drywall contractor who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Ellicott City. Reeley and Testerman were in agreement when they bought the colt for $16,000 at the Eaton Sales last May that they may have gotten a bargain. Excellent Band not only has won two stakes and more than $112,000, but Reeley has turned down private offers for the colt.

"He had sore shins that scared people off," Testerman said. "We let him down for a couple months, and he's been fine ever since."

Excellent Band arrived here early Tuesday after an uneventful van trip from Pimlico. Testerman put him through a slow, short breeze that didn't even make the clocker's tab Thursday morning.

"He's not much of a work horse, at least by himself," said Testerman, "but he's a real handful in company. He's all boy, that's for sure."

Testerman hopes Excellent Band will like Gulfstream as much as his trainer has. "It's 18 degrees back in Baltimore," she said. "It's so relaxing down here. It's great."

Blushing Indian breaks through

Dale Romans had been somewhat frustrated by the way Blushing Indian ran in his last few races at 2. But when he made his 3-year-old debut here Wednesday, Blushing Indian was sensational, leading Romans to believe the colt is ready to hit the Kentucky Derby trail.

"I think he may have turned the corner," Romans said, the morning after Blushing Indian posted a 7 1/4-length romp in the second of two entry-level allowance races for 3-year-olds. "He'll run next in either the Hutcheson or Fountain of Youth," both set for Feb. 14.

Blushing Indian, by Cherokee Run, tracked the early pace before drawing clear under Jose Santos. His time of 1:22.86 was 1.27 seconds faster than Frisky Spider's winning time in the earlier split.

Blushing Indian, owned in partnership by Bill Pacella, Joe Rizza, and Ron Schwed, had been particularly disappointing in his previous three races. He finished third in the Cradle Stakes, fifth in the Iroquois Stakes, and fifth in a Churchill Downs allowance.

Blushing Indian arrived in Florida in early December.

"He's really blossomed since we brought him down here," said Romans. "We've been trying to get him to come from off the pace and relax, but he was fighting it. It all came together [Wednesday]. We think he's a horse with a lot of talent. I don't think there are any limitations to him at all."

House Party works half-mile in 48

House Party blew out an easy half-mile in 48 seconds under regular rider Jose Santos here Thursday morning, giving every indication she'll be one to reckon with in Sunday's $100,000 First Lady Handicap.

House Party will carry 118 pounds, one fewer than starting highweight Harmony Lodge, in the six-furlong First Lady.

"She's sharp right now, and she's going to have to be to win," trainer Allen Jerkens said. "That's why they put up a hundred thousand. It's going to be a tough race."

House Party won 5 of 10 starts, including the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes, as a 3-year-old in 2003. She also won the Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream. On Sunday, she'll be looking to avenge a half-length setback at the hands of Harmony Lodge in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap.

"She came a little wide the last time these two fillies met," Jerkens said.

House Party changed her running style last season from that of a speed filly to one who can rate and rally from off the pace.

"Jose [Santos] found she liked to run better from behind," said Jerkens. "It's always nice to have horses who can be rated. Unless you've got one with extreme speed, it seems to shorten their careers if they run on the front end all the time."

Jerkens said he always felt House Party would be a good horse, but he never expected her to have the kind of success she's had.

"She's always been a bit of a surprise to me," Jerkens said. "I never thought she'd do as well as she's done."

Jerkens may send pair to Donn

Jerkens also reported that Puzzlement and Bowman's Band, who finished first and second in Saturday's Hal's Hope Handicap, came out of the race in good shape. Puzzlement is eligible for the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita on Jan. 24 but will likely be pointed for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap along with Bowman's Band.

"The Sunshine Millions race is at Santa Anita, which doesn't favor horses who come from behind like [Puzzlement] does," Jerkens said.

Puzzlement had been idle four months coming into the Hal's Hope. He had gotten sick following his third-place finish behind Mineshaft in the Woodward.

"He really worried me because he didn't come out of it right away, and I told the vet not to take anything for granted," said Jerkens. "He really didn't start to come around until the last three weeks, but I had an inkling he might run well Saturday after he blew out in 35 two days before the race."

Longtime trainer Catanese dies

Joe Catanese, who trained horses in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Florida for more than four decades, died Thursday following a long illness. He was 72.

Catanese retired in the early 1990's. He is survived by his wife, Shirley, a former trainer herself, and sons Ralph and Joe III.

Ralph Catanese is an assistant to trainer Manny Tortora, while Joe Catanese III maintains stables at Calder and Gulfstream.

>>> - Free past performances, A Closer Look and handicapper's analysis for the Spectacular Bid Stakes.