12/27/2011 2:00PM

Gulfstream Park: Grande Shores looks to shake off rust in return

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – At the same time trainer Stanley Gold was orchestrating Awesome Feather’s undefeated, Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old campaign in 2010, he was guiding the fortunes of a 2-year-old colt he also felt had exciting potential. Unfortunately, not only did Grande Shores’s juvenile campaign end prematurely, it’s taken Gold until the final week of the homebred’s 3-year-old season to finally get him back to the races.

Grande Shores’s long-awaited return will come in Thursday’s $53,500 feature at Gulfstream Park, a first-level allowance dash for 3-year-olds that drew a field of eight, including trainer Todd Pletcher’s uncoupled duo of Ice Cream Man and Simba’s Story.

Grande Shores, who is owned by Fred Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm, was no worse than second in each of the five races he actually finished at 2. In his only other start, the son of Black Mambo stumbled and lost his rider in the Frank Gomez Memorial. Gold thought enough of Grande Shores to run him as a maiden in the Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, a race he lost to local division leader Gourmet Dinner by just a half-length. He would not start again for nearly five months, registering an easy 6 3/4-length maiden win at Calder before being sent to the sidelines once more, this time for a full year.

“I thought I had a good one last year,” Gold said. “I thought he could have beaten Gourmet Dinner in the Dr. Fager. He almost did and wasn’t even right that day. He had health issues, and after breaking his maiden came down with a virus, so we just decided to bite the bullet and give him all the time off he needed to get healthy again.”

Grande Shores has had seven works, including a six-furlong drill in 1:17.60 from the gate at Calder on Dec. 14 in preparation for his return, although Gold knows his horse is facing a tough task coming off such a lengthy layoff against quality opposition.

“He’s had plenty of works, but it’s not like being in the heat of battle and I’m worried he might be a little rusty and need a race,” Gold said. “Six furlongs is not his best distance, but it’s time to get started.”

Ice Cream Man also is coming off an extended vacation, having been idle since winning his only previous start by three parts of a length here April 3. The son of Elusive Quality also has trained extensively for his comeback, posting seven recorded works at Palm Meadows for Pletcher since arriving in south Florida in early November, topped by a five-furlong bullet in 1:00 on Dec. 12.

Simba’s Story, another offspring of Elusive Quality, has won once in five tries, with his lone victory coming over Aqueduct’s inner track in February. He has not started since finishing fourth behind future Grade 3 winner Redeemed on April 30 at Belmont Park. He matched Ice Cream Man’s black-letter five-furlong drill at Palm Meadows on Dec. 12.

An honest pace would enhance the chances of late-runners like Raging Six and Depeche Chat.

Racing Six raced out of conditions by jumping into a second-level optional claimer in his last start at Monmouth Park, where he finished third after trailing into the stretch. Depeche Chat rallied from near the rear of the pack to finish second while coming off a 5 1/2-month layoff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.

Zuber, Trouble in Dodge, and Old Guys Rule complete the field.