12/29/2012 4:34PM

Gulfstream Park: 3-year-olds get first tests in Gulfstream Park Derby and Spectacular Bid

Tom Keyser
The unbeaten Purple Egg, here winning the Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs, stretches out to a mile in the Gulfstream Park Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It may be a little early for Kentucky Derby fever. But the bug will definitely be in the air on Tuesday at Gulfstream Park when the first derby of the year, the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby, is among the highlights of a 10-race program restricted to 3-year-olds.

The Gulfstream Park Derby is one of two races on the holiday card that will offer 3-year-olds an opportunity to hitch their wagon to the Kentucky Derby trail. The second is the six-furlong Spectacular Bid, which features the second start of the sensational maiden winner Little Distorted.

A well-matched field of eight will contest the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby, a lineup topped by the undefeated Purple Egg along with stakes winners Star Contender and Itsmyluckyday.

Purple Egg has won his first three starts at three different tracks for trainer Jane Cibelli, at distances ranging from five to six furlongs. A roguish sort before he started, he has become much more manageable after being gelded prior to his debut at Monmouth Park.

“He’s trained well and timing-wise this race is perfect,” said Cibelli. “Although he’s never been this far, I’m confident he’ll handle a one-turn mile.”

Purple Egg rallied to defeat the odds-on Brave Dave, who will be among the choices in the Spectacular Bid, to capture Tampa’s Inaugural in his 2-year-old finale, and Cibelli is hoping to see her horse sitting off the pace again.

“Naturally he’ll be a little closer to the front stretching out to a mile, but I don’t want him to be on the lead,” said Cibelli. “We’ve trained him to rate, to make him finish and stretch out, and that’s what we’d like to see him do again in this race.”

Star Contender is already proven beyond a mile, so the distance should prove no problem in the Gulfstream Derby. Star Contender won Woodbine’s Cup and Saucer on turf by more than three lengths despite trouble and then concluded his 2-year-old campaign by finishing second in the nine-furlong Coronation there. He will be trying dirt while also racing with blinkers for the first time.

“He’s really run greenly in all his starts,” said trainer Mark Casse. “When he won the Cup and Saucer he shied and ducked in, and Patrick [Husbands] always felt he just wasn’t focused, so we’re going to give blinkers a try. We weren’t allowed to put them on off a winning race, but now that he finished second in his last start we’ll take advantage of the opportunity.”

Casse is also confident Star Contender will handle the dirt.

“He worked very nicely with the blinkers at Palm Meadows and he’s done very well up there on the dirt,” said Casse. “We like to give all our grass horses a shot on the dirt, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Itsmyluckyday returns to the main track after finishing a wide-running fourth in the Dania Beach. A stretch-running son of Lawyer Ron, Itsmyluckyday registered an impressive three-length victory over Sr. Quisqueyano, another member of the Gulfstream Derby field, in Calder’s mile-and-70-yard Foolish Pleasure for the second of his two stakes wins at 2.

Undrafted, Uptown Anthem, Almost English and Joshua’s Comprise complete the field.

Spectacular Bid: Little Distorted tests talent

Little Distorted, who earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when launching his career at Belmont on Oct. 28, will get a quick class test taking on Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint runner-up Merit Man and the graded stakes winner Brave Dave in the $100,000 Spectacular Bid.

Little Distorted was purchased privately by Silverton Hill and turned over to trainer Darrin Miller at Payson Park, where he has completed his preparations for his stakes debut. Miller said he’s hoping the Spectacular Bid will be a stepping-stone to stretching Little Distorted out around two turns and running him in some of the major Kentucky Derby preps here later in the meet.

Merit Man was beaten a nose as the odds-on favorite in the Juvenile Sprint, and his trainer, Bob Hess Jr., believes he’s only going to improve off that effort.

“He’s kind of a lazy horse in the morning, and for him, he’s been working great since getting to Gulfstream,” said Hess. “I think you’ll see a better Merit Man at 3.”

Brave Dave had his three-race stakes win streak snapped when beaten a length by Purple Egg in Tampa’s Inaugural. BraveDave captured the Grade 3 Sapling last summer at Monmouth Park.