03/28/2013 3:32PM

Gulfstream Park: Cigar Street looks ready for Skip Away


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After a couple of impressive-looking allowance victories, Cigar Street steps back into stakes company for the first time in a year in Saturday’s deep Grade 3, $100,000 Skip Away Stakes going 1 3/16 miles at Gulfstream Park.

Cigar Street was on the Kentucky Derby trail briefly last year before emerging from a fourth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby with an issue. Given time off and transferred to Bill Mott, Cigar Street won a first-level allowance race here on Dec. 27 and a second-level allowance by 2 1/2 lengths on Feb. 17. The horse he beat in February, Big Screen, came back to win a second-level allowance race by 9 1/4 lengths last Saturday at Aqueduct with a Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

“The only complaint John Velazquez has had with him is that he’s been pulling his arms a little too hard the first part,” said Kenny McCarthy, the Gulfstream Park-based assistant to trainer Bill Mott. “I thought both of his races were solid, and it looks like he’s come back good from both of them.”

There are 10 horses in the field, and all the speed, including Cigar Street, is positioned in the outside three posts. Cigar Street breaks from post 9 under Velazquez with Take Charge Indy to his inside and Pants On Fire to his outside.

“He’s going to place himself close to the lead,” McCarthy said. “If somebody really wants it, he’s happy to sit back there. More distance is not going to be an issue for him, either.”

Take Charge Indy, who won last year’s Florida Derby in front-running fashion, finished third behind Graydar in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in his last start on Feb. 9.

“He got plenty out of the Donn,” trainer Pat Byrne said. “He came out of the Donn in okay shape, not brilliant. Running third in a Grade 1, I’m okay with it. I didn’t expect to get beat eight lengths. Wasn’t disgraced – the first two horses are really good.”

Byrne said he will tell jockey Rosie Napravnik to let the horse place himself in the early stages.

Pants On Fire is 2 for 3 at Gulfstream with two allowance victories and a half-length loss in the Hal’s Hope here on Jan. 13. The question facing him is his ability to get 1 3/16 miles.

“I think a mile and three-sixteenths is in his wheelhouse,” trainer Kelly Breen said. “He looks good, he’s training good, we know he likes the track.”

Golden Ticket is 2 for 2 at Gulfstream. His only other victory came in the Travers last summer when he dead-heated for with Alpha.

Al Qasr, a Group 1 winner in Argentina, makes his U.S. debut in this spot.

Appleton could be ‘Red Hot’

On paper, the toughest of the seven stakes on Saturday’s card to handicap appears to be the Grade 3, $100,000 Appleton Stakes at a mile.

A field of 12 was entered, though trainer Michelle Nihei said it is “90 percent” likely that Upgrade would scratch.

There appears to be plenty of speed in the field, which could set things up for Cool Blue Red Hot, who won his turf debut going a mile here on Feb. 16.

Trainer Angel Penna Jr. said that he tried Cool Blue Red Hot on the turf because he couldn’t get a suitable dirt race to fill.

“The problem with the dirt is the races long on the dirt don’t go, and when they do normally there’s somebody dropping from a big race and you get buried,” Penna said. “He ran a wonderful race. He came out of the race better than he’s come out of the dirt races. He’s out of conditions, he’s doing fine. Sometimes you got to try.”

Beaux Choix and Za Approval would both be helped by a rapid pace. They finished third and fourth, respectively, behind Data Link in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Handicap here on Feb. 23.

Silver Max, a five-time stakes winner at 3, makes his first start in five months and looks to be part of the early pace equation with El Commodore, Decisive Moment, and Joes Blazing Aaron.

Omayad, who has not run since finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Manhattan last June, has the looks of an upset candidate. He won 5 of 8 starts in Chile in 2011 before coming to the United States

Pletcher has trio in Sir Shackleton

Todd Pletcher has three of the eight runners in Saturday’s $75,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes and, based on their previous success over this strip, all three have to be given consideration.

Travelin Man, who won this race last year, is 4 for 6 over the strip, though he is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship last out.

Soaring Stocks, also 3 for 4 over this strip, has not been out since July. Spring Hill Farm is in the best form of the Pletcher trio, having won a solid second-level allowance here on Jan. 20.

An upset candidate could be Bellefire, who was finishing fast when he ran third in the Super Stakes at Tampa on Feb. 23. Action Andy, who finished second in that same race, figures to duke it out on the front end with Guam Typhoon.