01/18/2013 5:17PM

Gulfstream Park: Flying Bird looks to continue resurgence on turf in Kitten's Joy

Kenny Martin
Charming Kitten (left), narrowly beaten by Mystic Love in last month's Dania Beach, is the horse to beat in Sunday's Kitten's Joy Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – In three sprint starts on dirt last year, Flying Bird never finished closer than 5 1/2 lengths of the winner, and his Beyer Speed Figures declined with each race. Then he was put on the grass, and sent two turns. The transformation was immediate.

Flying Bird romped to a 4 1/2-length win against maidens at Delaware, then rallied powerfully to beat a first-level allowance field at Churchill Downs. He goes for his third straight win, and steps into a stakes race, on Sunday at Gulfstream Park, in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy for 3-year-old grass runners at 1 1/16 miles.

“He’s a nice horse,” his trainer, Hall of Famer Nick Zito, said at the Palm Meadows training center on Friday morning. “I probably should try more of my horses on the grass. There’s so many opportunities these days.”

Zito has won major races on the turf, but that has never been his main focus. He joked that Flying Bird’s co-owner, John Hendrickson, told him, “You’ve always been a great grass trainer. You just don’t know it.”

It was Hendrickson, husband of Marylou Whitney, the breeder and owner of Flying Bird, whom Zito credited with wanting to get Flying Bird on the turf. That, Zito could control. The post on Sunday, not as much. Flying Bird landed the outside box in the eight-horse field.

“I wish he had an inside post so he could save ground,” Zito said.

To prevail, Flying Bird will have to overcome not only the post, but Charming Kitten, who should be favored after finishing second at even-money in the Dania Beach here Dec. 15. In that mile race, Charming Kitten came up a half-length short after trying to overcome the outside draw in a 10-horse field.

“He ran well from a tough post,” said his trainer, Todd Pletcher. “It seems like he’s been training better since that race, too.”

Charming Kitten is one of three horses in the race sired by Kitten’s Joy, and one of two owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who campaigned Kitten’s Joy and stand him at stud. Charming Kitten, a Ramsey homebred, is the only horse the Ramseys have with Pletcher.

The Ramseys also have homebred Redwood Kitten, who will be a longshot. He defeated maiden claimers in his fifth lifetime start last time out for trainer Wesley Ward.

The Ramseys also bred Prado Cat, who was sold as a yearling for $65,000 and is owned by Frank Jones. Prado Cat, trained by Dale Romans, scored a front-running victory against maidens at Gulfstream on Dec. 21.

Romans also sends out Summit County, who won a first-level allowance here on Dec. 19 after finishing third to Flying Bird at Churchill.

Fire Guard should be a major player in this race. A son of First Defence, Fire Guard overpowered maidens at Tampa last time out. In his only prior grass race, he was second to Charming Kitten in a Saratoga maiden race.

Bambazonki also has a strong look, having won both his starts on turf, at Arlington and Keeneland, after finishing second in his debut.

Saturday Special comes off a runner-up finish in a first-level allowance here.