03/29/2012 5:31PM

Gulfstream: Clean trip may be all Where's Sterling needs in Skip Away

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Even with a little better racing luck, Where’s Sterling may not have won the Donn Handicap here at Gulfstream Park earlier this winter. But he certainly would have come a lot closer in his Grade 1 debut than his fourth-place finish if he had not steadied sharply in traffic at the head of the stretch.

Where’s Sterling will be looking for a cleaner trip when he steps down in class and stretches out in distance to take on eight rivals in Saturday’s $100,000 Skip Away, a Grade 3 stakes to be decided at 1 3/16 miles.

[FLORIDA DERBY: Video previews, watch Saturday's full card live]

Where’s Sterling was beaten 3 1/2 lengths by winner Hymn Book after his troubles in the Donn. The outing was the second here this winter for Where’s Sterling, who finished second behind the odds-on Boys At Tosconova under allowance conditions on Dec. 23. Where’s Sterling became a Grade 3 winner last summer when he rallied to a one-length decision in Monmouth Park’s Iselin.

“I think he would have been right there if he didn’t get stopped in the Donn,” said Nick Canani, who trains Where’s Sterling for owner Frank Calabrese. “He’s a big horse, and once he gets stopped it takes a little while for him to get going again. I also believe the further he goes the better it is for him.”

Where’s Sterling’s main competition in the Skip Away could be Alma d’Oro, who also encountered traffic issues in his last start. Alma d’Oro had to steady sharply behind an injured horse near the half-mile pole of Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 25. Alma d’Oro ultimately recovered to finish third, beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Nates Mineshaft.

“He checked real hard and lost all his momentum,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “It cost him any chance of winning. The extra distance of this race should help him and I think he will be laying close without being on the lead.”