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Gray Beard, Political Attack bow out
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The prospective field for next Saturday's $1 million, Grade 1 Florida Derby stood at eight or nine horses on Thursday, following the defections of Grey Beard and Political Attack and the possible addition of Puck, who comes off a second-place finish behind Nokoma in an allowance two weeks ago.
"Right now we're 50-50 on going into the Florida Derby," trainer Bill White said when asked about Puck's status for the race. "I've got a work scheduled for him tomorrow or Saturday, depending upon the weather, and we'll make a decision on the race based on how he works."
White said he began thinking about the Florida Derby after Puck's easy seven-length maiden victory earlier in the meet. After he finished in a dead heat for second with Doc Wild, less than a length behind Nokoma and a head in front of Monthir in a preliminary allowance four weeks later, the Florida Derby became a viable option.
"We figured if he could run that well against horses that figured prominently in the Florida Derby picture then why not think about the race ourselves," White said. "He's also nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby, which remains a possibility."
Grey Beard appeared a strong candidate for the Florida Derby after working six furlongs in 1:13.80 here Tuesday. But his trainer Graham Motion said he came out of the work "sore in his right front" and has been withdrawn from consideration for the race.
"Right now we're unsure what the problem is," said Motion. "He'd never shown any signs of soreness prior to this. But in the back of my mind I wonder if it was something that had been nagging him that we weren't away of, and explains why he ran so poorly in the Fountain of Youth."
Grey Beard was an impressive allowance winner early in the meet but finished a badly beaten seventh in the Fountain of Youth. He'll be sent back to owner George Brunacini's training center in Lexington, Ky. for further evaluation, according to Motion.
Trainer John Hennig has opted to pass the Florida Derby with Political Attack for what figures to be a much softer spot in the $200,000 Tampa Derby the next day at Tampa Bay Downs. Political Attack ran fourth after chasing Booklet's pace in the Fountain of Youth.
"I had considered the Florida Derby up until yesterday (Wednesday)," said Hennig. "But I have too much respect for Booklet and Harlan's Holiday, and I decided I would like to position my horse just a bit better for now. I don't consider him a Kentucky Derby candidate at the moment. I'm just looking for him to develop and let him be what he can be. He's training exceptionally well, but the Florida Derby would be a big bite for him. And to use a horse up chasing what might be a fake dream doesn't make any sense. All that teaches them is how to give up or surrender."
The prospective lineup for the Florida Derby, with riders, consists of: Booklet (Jorge Chavez), Harlan's Holiday (Edgar Prado), Blue Burner (Jerry Bailey), D'Coach (no rider), High Star (Gary Stevens), Nokoma (John Velazquez), Personal Reward (Eibar Coa), Stephentown (Pat Day), and Puck (no rider).
D'Coach worked an easy half mile in 49.60 seconds on Thursday. Like Political Attack, he is also nominated for the Tampa Bay Derby although trainer Shug McGaughey said he is leaning towards running in the Florida Derby.
An equipment change that could impact the the Florida Derby is the addition of blinkers on Blue Burner, a lightly raced colt who finished third making his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth.
"He's been training with blinkers but I couldn't put them on for the Fountain of Youth since he was coming off a victory and Florida doesn't allow you to make an equipment change off a win," said Blue Burner's trainer Bill Mott. "The blinkers seem to keep him a little more focused. He's still a green running horse with a lot of room for improvement. They may also help him sustain his run a little bit."
McGee saddling uncoupled pair
Trainer Paul McGee will send out two key contenders, Dream Run and Twilight Road, in Saturday's $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship.
"I'd really like to keep the two of them apart, but they're both doing so well and it's such a good spot for both of them being seven furlongs for a $200,000 purse it's just hard to pass it up," McGee said.
Dream Run finished fourth in last year's Florida Derby and second in the 2001 Grade 2 Derby Trial and has won three of four starts at seven furlongs. Twilight Road was beaten a nose by Fappie's Notebook in last month's Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap. The McGee pair will race as an uncoupled entry Saturday.
McGee has left Dream Run and Twilight Road in the care here this winter of assistant trainer Randy Martin. He is also still coping with the loss of his other key assistant, Steve Williams, who was killed, along with wife, Grace, and son Christian, in a car crash on Feb. 15. Another Williams son, Robert, remains hospitalized in Louisville.
"The whole incident has been very hard on me personally as well as professionally," said McGee. "Steve was not only a very key man in my operation but in addition he was a very good friend of mine, and I'll miss him."
McGee said he promoted Galen Pruitt, who worked for him as a groom for the past six years, to fill Williams's assistant role in Kentucky.
Revised stakes schedule kicks in
This is the month that longtime Gulfstream fans are most likely to notice the revised stakes schedule. The following races all have been switched form their former dates in relation to the Florida Derby, which will be run next Saturday:
* The Gulfstream Sprint Championship is now run a week before instead of the day before.
* The Gulfstream Park Handicap is now two Saturdays after instead of two Saturdays before.
* The Bonnie Miss is now the day before instead of the day after.
* The Pan American Handicap is now the Saturday after instead of the Saturday before.
* The Creme Fraiche is now the Sunday before instead of the day of.
* The Orchid is now two Sundays after instead of the Sunday before.
* The revisions are due partly to the lengthier 2002 meet, which runs through April 24. In previous years, Gulfstream closed March 16.
Creme Fraiche attracts at least seven
A field of at least seven was expected Sunday for the $100,000 Creme Fraiche Handicap.
With the four highweights taking a pass, this is the probable lineup for the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 race: Rize, 115 pounds; Best of the Rest, 114; Bowman's Band, 112; Dancing Guy, 112; Free of Love, 112; Hal's Hope, 112; and Deferred Comp.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee