02/11/2006 1:00AM

Gulch Approval goes all the way

Ryan McAlinden/EQUI-PHOTO
Gulch Approval and jockey Roberto Alvarado, Jr. race ahead of Old Dodge with Cornelio Velazquez to win the Appleton Handicap on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulch Approval gave trainer Reynaldo Abreu the first stakes win of his career, leading throughout for a half-length victory over Old Dodge in Saturday's $100,000 at Gulfstream Park. Host finished eighth as the 7-5 favorite in a field of nine in the one-mile turf race.

Gulch Approval went right to the front under jockey Robbie Alvarado Jr., set moderate fractions while stalked by Old Dodge, and held on gamely to maintain a narrow advantage in the final furlong. Old Dodge chased the winner from the outset and continued willingly to the end. Drum Major rallied along the rail to finish third.

Host, the only Grade 1 winner in the field, was making his first start since finishing far back over the main track in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 26. He raced outside horses while in mid-pack in the Appleton and was still well behind the leaders when he was put in tight quarters by Old Forester and forced to steady sharply in early stretch.

A claim of foul by Host's jockey, John Velazquez, against Old Forester was disallowed.

Gulch Approval, a 6-year-old son of Gulch and Classic Approval, is owned by the Marylou Whitney Stables. He paid $33 after covering the distance in 1:32.80 over a firm course.

"Winning my first stakes makes this special to me, especially doing it in a graded race," said Abreu, who had worked for some of the top trainers in the sport, including Nick Zito, Todd Pletcher, and D. Wayne Lukas, before going out on his own with a string of Whitney Stable runners last June.

"This has been a very unlucky horse," Abreu said. "He's been pressed on the lead in many of his races and it's hard to finish when you go an opening half-mile in 45. But when he can make the lead like he did today, he is very tough."

Abreu said he was undecided what would be next for Gulch Approval.

"We'll just see how he comes out of this one before making any decisions about his next one," he said.