01/26/2013 4:10PM

Gulfstream Park: Golden Ticket starts year with sharp victory

Barbara D. Livingston
Golden Ticket draws off through the stretch to a convincing victory over 2011 Remsen winner O’Prado Again on Saturday at Gulfstream.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.– Golden Ticket may have surprised most everybody when he dead-heated with Alpha to win the 2012 Travers. But if his 4-year-old debut is an indication, Golden Ticket won’t surprise anyone if there are more Grade 1 wins in his future.

Benefiting from a perfectly judged ride by David Cohen, Golden Ticket drew off through the stretch to a convincing victory over 2011 Remsen winner O’Prado Again, launching his 4-year-old campaign under second-level optional claiming conditions on Saturday. The win was the first in three starts since the Travers for Golden Ticket, a son of Speightstown, who concluded his 3-year-old season with a disappointing effort on grass in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

“He’s a good horse. The Travers wasn’t a fluke. It’s just a matter of how he transitions from 3 to 4, but he’s been doing really well and we’re thrilled,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “It was a test to run him on the grass in his last one. We felt we had to try one more 3-year-old race against graded types. Now he’s back on the surface he belongs on. I think it’s going to be a big year for him.”

McPeek was noncommittal when it came to whether Golden Ticket might return in two weeks for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

“We’ll nominate him and see,” said McPeek. “Right now I’ve got nothing in mind. I’ll sit down and do the math over the next couple of days and then we’ll decide.”

Motion, McGaughey cautious

Trainer Graham Motion and Shug McGaughey were also playing their cards close to the vest when it came to future plans for Cerro and Orb, both of whom were impressive winners of a split entry-level optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on Saturday.

Cerro, an Irish-bred son of Mr. Greeley who began his career on grass in Italy, led throughout to win the first and faster division, completing the distance in 1:50.29 under jockey Javier Castellano. The win was the first in four U.S. appearances for Cerro, who finished third trying dirt for the first time when making his 3-year-old debut on New Year’s Day.

“When he won in Italy he was on the lead, so I wasn’t totally surprised to see him in front,” said Motion who trains Cerro for Team Valor International. “I feel like every time this horse has run it was a question of getting him fit. I’ve given him an excuse, personally, every time he’s run, and I think he’s on the improve.”

Motion said he has nothing picked out for Cerro’s next race.

“I have not even thought about his next start, but that was a legitimate race and winning at a mile and one-eighth on the dirt is huge this time of year, right?” quipped Motion. “So clearly it makes sense to stick with the dirt.”

Orb overcame trouble on the first turn to overtake game pacesetter Duke of the City to post his second straight victory. A homebred son of Bernardini, Orb is trained by McGaughey for the partnership of Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable.

“He’s not fast, so sometimes trouble like that is going to happen,” said McGaughey. “I’m glad in a way, because he got a little schooling and this was the first time we got him stretched out around two turns. I was having trouble with him at the gate. The first two times he ran he had trouble at the gate, and he also came up against horses who are okay. I’m very pleased with today. I think there’s a lot more there.”

McGaughey said he had no answer for what might be next for Orb other than to say the Fountain of Youth was a “possibility.”

** Bill Mott sent out his second, very impressive 3-year-old filly debut winner of the meet when Close Hatches cruised to an easy victory in Saturday’s sixth race. Calistoga won her first start in similar manner earlier this month. Close Hatches, a daughter of First Defence, is owned by Juddmonte Farms.