09/20/2013 4:04PM

Florida notes: Black Diamond Cat in career-best form

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Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photos
Under Jilver Chimafi, Black Diamond Cat wins the Montbrook at Gulfstream and earns a Beyer Speed Figure of 103.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – If they gave out an award for most improved horse on the south Florida circuit in 2013, they’d stop that fight right now with Black Diamond Cat the hands-down winner.

After going 19 straight races and nearly two years without a victory since capturing the Major Moran overnight stakes at Calder in August 2011, Black Diamond Cat has won three of his last four starts. And he won not just any three races, but three stakes, beginning with the Ponche Handicap at Calder and continuing with victories in the Housebuster and last Saturday’s Montbrook at Gulfstream Park. His only recent setback came in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap earlier this summer at Calder.

In the Montbrook, Black Diamond Cat stretched out to a mile for only the third time in his career. He slipped up the rail under a beautifully judged ride by jockey Jilver Chimafi to register a 5 3/4-length victory while earning a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure.

Black Diamond Cat is trained by Larry Bates, who was in Kentucky at the Keeneland sales for Black Diamond Cat’s Saturday victory.

“I haven’t been there for two of his three stakes wins,” the good-natured Bates said. “I think they’re going to start paying me to stay away when he runs.”

Bates said he can’t put a finger on anything specific that has suddenly turned the always talented but hard-luck 6-year-old Black Diamond Cat into one of the top sprinters on the grounds.

“He always ran competitively at a high level, but, like Allen Jerkens says, you try different things with them and sometimes you find something and it all just comes together,” Bates said. “I also don’t want to take anything away from the rider. He fits this horse like a glove.”

Bates said it was just by luck that he wound up having to stretch Black Diamond Cat out to a mile Saturday.

“We had talked about sending him to Saratoga for the Forego, where he would have probably been very competitive considering the track came up muddy, which he loves, and Jackson Bend, who he beat here last time, ran second in the race,” Bates said. “But I was assured the Cherokee Run was going to fill at Gulfstream, so we figured we’d just keep him home and then they wound up not using the race. Fortunately, we were able to go in the Montbrook and it worked out all right.”

Bates has nothing specific picked out for Black Diamond Cat’s next start, although he’ll have more options now that he knows the horse is comfortable at distances ranging up to a one-turn mile.

“I really don’t have anything in mind down here, but I’m not thinking about taking him out of town,” said Bates, who is stabled at Calder. “It’s too late in the year to start shipping around.”

Calder objects to loss of funding

The news that Gulfstream Park and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association created the Sunshine Millions Preview program did not sit well with Calder management. Calder had a similar series of statebred stakes races – the Florida Million – on its schedule for the same afternoon, Nov. 9.

Calder, which had the funding for its races withdrawn by the breeders and owners association, has since scrapped the Florida Million in lieu of a series of $50,000 overnight stakes to be run later this fall.

“The decision of the FTBOA racing committee to reallocate breeder enhancement dollars from Calder’s Florida Million Day to invent a Sunshine Millions Preview Day at Gulfstream Park furthers the need for Calder to re-examine its participation in developing Florida-breds,” said John Marshall, Calder’s vice president and general manager of racing. “This decision, coupled with the FTBOA’s choice to relocate the Florida Sire Stakes, requires Calder to take a more calculated look at its 2-year-old stall allocations for the winter-spring meet.

“Though we disagree with the FTBOA’s rationale behind reallocating funds in the middle of the race meet, we are glad that the newly named Sunshine Millions Preview Day will carry on the tradition of supporting Florida-breds as Calder’s 2-year-old program did for decades.”

◗ Trainer Angel Medina has been on fire since the Tropical at Calder meet began Sept. 1. Medina, who had won only three races from 62 starters through the end of August, has sent out four winners from the first seven runners he’s saddled during the opening weeks of the Tropical session, including Tale of the Heart and Pin and Win in the second and third events Friday.