12/20/2011 2:49PM

Gulfstream: Horse-for-course Little Mike back from long vacation

Ashley Blum
Little Mike won three Grade 3 turf stakes last winter, including the Canadian Turf. He will make his first start since April in a high-priced optional claimer on Thursday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Little Mike, a dominant figure over the local turf course earlier this year, will conclude his successful but all too brief 2011 campaign against a strong field of fourth-level optional $100,000 claiming rivals in Thursday’s co-featured seventh race at Gulfstream Park.

Little Mike won three Grade 3 events, the Ft. Lauderdale, Canadian Turf, and Appleton, for owner Priscilla Vaccarezza and trainer Dale Romans during the 2011 meet. His only setback this year came in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, in which he finished sixth while trying to stretch his abundant speed out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time in his career.

Little Mike, who has led at every call in each of his seven career victories, had to be stopped on last spring after sustaining a cracked shin while training up to the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. He has had five recorded works in preparation for Thursday’s return, including a sharp five-eighths over the turf in 58.86 seconds with regular rider Joe Bravo aboard on Sunday.

“He likes it here and loves this course,” said Romans. “This is a pretty good group he’s up against Thursday but he looks like the class of the field and it’s a good place to start, although it won’t be the end of the world if he gets beat. He seems to have grown up and matured with the time off. It takes a special horse to do what he does in his races, run so fast and keep going and I don’t think we’re about to change that style now.”

Little Mike will face seven rivals at his most effective distance of a mile, including his uncoupled stablemate Guys Reward. The strong field also features Grade 1 winner Telling and Yankee Fourtune, who has been lightly raced since posting a pair of Grade 3 victories as a 3-year-old in 2010.

Telling makes his first start since being transferred to trainer David Fawkes’s barn during the fall. A 7-year-old son of A.P. lndy,Telling won back-to-back runnings of Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer for trainer Steve Hobby but has failed to hit the board in four subsequent starts since successfully defending his Sword Dancer title in August 2010 . He has not started since finishing far back in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 29.

Telling, whose best races have come at 1 1/2 miles, will compete at a mile for the first time in his career.

“He’s doing well and ready to run,” said Fawkes, who like Hobby trains for owners Alex and Joanne Lieblong. “We know this isn’t his best distance, that he wants to go longer, but it will get him started back.”

Yankee Fourtune has made just one start since finishing third, beaten four lengths by Little Mike, in the Canadian Turf. In his comeback, Yankee Fourtune was fourth under allowance conditions at Keeneland on Oct. 7. Yankee Fourtune, who has lost just two of his seven starts on grass, won the Hawthorne Derby and Commonweath Turf within a five-week span during the fall of his 3-year-old campaign.

A similar optional $100,000 claiming race for fillies and mares over the main track (race 10) will share top billing on Thursday’s program. The Romans-trained Persuading tops the nine-horse field, which also features Grade 3 winner Groupie Doll, the red-hot My Pal Chrissie, consistent Sweet N Sour Nina, versatile Callmethesqueeze, and in-form Gorgeous Melody.

Persuading returns to south Florida off a sixth-place finish in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Go for Wand Handicap. She was also fourth in the Grade 2 Chilukki earlier this fall at Churchill Downs.

My Pal Chrissy is a rising 3-year-old star for trainer Padarath Lutchman at Calder, where she captured the Stage Door Betty and Elmer Heubeck handicaps in her last two tries.