11/30/2010 2:35PM

Gourmet Dinner gives Madrid good reason to stay home

Coady Photography
Gourmet Dinner, Sebastian Madrid up, wins the Delta Downs Jackpot.

MIAMI – Sebastian Madrid has spent the last nine winters riding in Saudi Arabia rather than staying home and fighting the inevitable losing battle trying to secure live mounts against the cream of the Gulfstream Park jockey colony.

But Madrid won’t be leaving town this winter, and for good reason. He’s the regular rider for Gourmet Dinner, upset winner of the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot, who is virtually assured of a starting berth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby based on graded earnings.

Madrid has been Gourmet Dinner’s regular jockey since that son of Trippi launched his career with a one-length victory here on July 17. The pair have since combined to win 4 of 5 starts, including the Delta Jackpot, with their only setback a stunning second-place finish as the 3-5 favorite in the In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes.

The fact that Madrid was healthy enough to ride Gourmet Dinner in the In Reality and Delta Jackpot is somewhat of a miracle in itself. Neither seemed likely after the 44-year-old native of Panama went down in a frightening spill during the fourth race on Sept. 2 that left him with a fracture of the number 4 vertebra in his neck.

“The first three days after the spill I wasn’t sure how long I would be out and was afraid I was going to lose the mount on Gourmet Dinner,” said Madrid. “And I knew if someone else picked it up and won with the horse, it would be tough to get it back. But the fourth day I tried to do some push-ups and right then and there I said to myself I’m going to make it.”

Even though Gourmet Dinner was upset in his quest to complete a sweep of the Florida Stallion series in the In Reality, trainer Steve Standridge and owner Bill Terrill opted to stick with Madrid in the Delta Jackpot. They also added blinkers to the colt’s equipment, a change that made all the difference in the world when the big money was on the line.

“First of all I’ve got to thank Steve and Bill,” said Madrid. “They’ve both been very good to me. Naturally we were all surprised the day he got beat, but it was his first time going two turns and he never really grabbed the bit. He was just looking around too much. The blinkers really helped a lot, and maybe it was a blessing in disguise that he lost that one race, because if he kept winning, they might not have made the change.”

Madrid rode a perfect race in the Delta Jackpot, easing Gourmet Dinner off the rail and in the clear during the early going before driving him well clear with a nicely timed move entering the stretch.

“When I asked him to run, he just exploded in that race,” said Madrid.

Now Madrid, who had never won a million-dollar race before or ridden in the Triple Crown in his 28-year career, is looking forward to Gourmet Dinner’s 3-year-old campaign and a possible trip to the Derby.

“If you don’t have a big name in this business, you don’t get the big horses, and it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not going to win the big races if you don’t have a good horse,” said Madrid. “I have one now and I’m just going to stay home this winter and stick close to him. And who knows, with a little luck, maybe he’ll take me some places I’ve never been before.”

My Charmer, Tropical Turf overflow

Last year, track management cancelled the $100,000 My Charmer and Tropical Turf handicaps for financial reasons. Fortunately both races retained their Grade 3 status following the one year hiatus and both filled to overflowing when Saturday’s 12-race card was drawn on Monday.

The My Charmer lured a dozen starters plus four also-eligibles. Trainer Christophe Clement, who has already won the race twice with Danish (1995) and Snowdrops (2005), will send out Miss World as one of the three co-highweights along with the multiple stakes-winning New York bred You Go West Girl and multiple graded stakes winner Mary’s Follies, each of whom will tote 118 pounds. The starting lineup also includes a filly who ran her last race in Turkey, the English-bred Evading Tempete, who was a Group 3 winner in Europe earlier this year.

The Tropical Turf likewise lured 12 starters and four also-eligibles with the Grade 1 placed Never On Sunday and multiple stakes winner Rahy’s Attorney sharing topweight at 120 pounds.

Never On Sunday worked a half mile in 48.20 seconds at Gulfstream Park on Monday.

Clement will send out two fillies in the My Charmer, with Miss World to be joined in the starting gate by Akilina, wh will be ridden by Joe Bravo. Bravo returned to south Florida following the recent conclusion of the Meadowlands-at-Monmouth meeting and wasted little time teaming up with Clement to win a race last week.

Bravo, who did not win the riding crown but did win the money-earning title during the lucrative Monmouth summer session, will ride sparingly here during the month of December according to his agent, Dan Nied.

◗ Presious Passion breezed a mile in 1:46.40 at Gulfstream on Monday. The multiple Grade 1 winner will skip the Tropical Turf to await the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap here on Dec. 18.