01/24/2013 3:27PM

Gulfstream Park: Forward Gal may boil down to Kauai Katie vs. My Happy Face battle


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – My Happy Face ran the race of her life, only to fall a head short of upsetting Dreaming of Julia last fall in the Grade 1 Frizette. On Saturday, My Happy Face will seek payback against another of Stonestreet’s top 3-year-old fillies, Kauai Katie, when the pair face just four rivals in the $200,000 Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The Grade 2 Forward Gal will be decided at seven furlongs and is worth 10 points to the winner under the new system being used to determine the starting lineup for this year’s Kentucky Oaks.

My Happy Face dueled Dreaming of Julia for nearly the entire mile of the Frizette before coming out on the short end of a head decision. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez and owner Michael Dubb opted to skip the Breeders’ Cup with their lightly raced filly, who instead returned to win the Grade 3 Tempted following yet another gate-to-wire battle. My Happy Face, a daughter of Tiz Wonderful, was then given a little break to recuperate from her back-to-back, gut-wrenching efforts.

“The time off did her good,” Rodriguez said. “She’s doing everything we’ve asked of her right now, training absolutely beautiful, eating good. She’s very happy. She looks like she’s handling the track well here, and she’s ready to run. I was kind of hoping [trainer Todd] Pletcher’s horse [Kauai Katie] wouldn’t show up, but I expect my filly to run a big race.”

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Rodriguez said the Forward Gal is just a starting point for My Happy Face, who will stretch out as the season progresses.

“This race is just to give her a little bit to do, a place to start,” Rodriguez said. “Our main goal is to run her longer later in the year.”

My Happy Face could use the Forward Gal as a stepping-stone to the Grade 3 Davona Dale on Feb. 23 and a possible rematch with Dreaming of Julia.

Kauai Katie suffered her only setback in five starts when she finished a tiring fourth trying to go two turns for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She rebounded to launch her 3-year-old campaign in high style, with an eight-length victory in the Grade 3 Old Hat going six furlongs on New Year’s Day.

“We have a lot of respect for My Happy Face,” Pletcher said. “She ran Dreaming of Julia to a tough decision during the fall, so this won’t be an easy race. But she’s doing well and should run well again.”

Pletcher said it has been pretty much decided that Kauai Katie will confine her activity to sprint races this season.

“It looks like we’ll keep her at one turn, which is why the plan was to run her in the Old Hat and Forward Gal because there isn’t much sprinting for her after this race,” Pletcher said. “The idea is to freshen her up after Saturday and point for races like the Prioress and Test as our main summer goals.”

Pletcher also entered the undefeated and untested Fusaichiswonderful, a Group 1 winner. Fusaichiswonderful captured all five of her 2-year-old starts, by an average margin of seven lengths, in Puerto Rico.

With My Happy Face and Kauai Katie at their best on or near the lead, an honest pace scenario could enhance the chances of a late-runner like Spring Venture, who will race on dirt for the first time. Spring Venture has been freshened since suffering her first loss in four starts when finishing 13th following a rough trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf. Spring Venture posted back-to-back, bullet five-furlong main-track works at Palm Meadows in preparation for her 3-year-old debut.

Ashlee’s Princess and Pow Wow Wow complete the field.