01/01/2013 2:55PM

Gulfstream Park: Merit Man fends off City of Weston to win Spectacular Bid Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Merit Man, with Joel Rosario Up, wins the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Merit Man bounced back from his hard-luck setback in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint to open his 3-year-old campaign with a game and well deserved three-quarter-length decision over the 50-1 City of Weston in Tuesday’s $100,000 Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream Park.

Merit Man suffered his only loss in four career starts when beaten a nose by Hightail in the Juvenile Sprint, but looked much sharper training up to the Spectacular Bid than he did his 2-year-old finale.

With jockey Joel Rosario aboard for the first time, Merit Man broke very alertly from the rail to set a pressured pace, posting splits of 22.04 seconds and 44.93 for the opening quarter and half-mile of the six-furlong Spectacular Bid. Merit Man disposed of his early competition only to be joined by longshot City of Weston in early stretch. But Merit Man dug in bravely, resisting his final challenge before edging away at the end.

City of Weston, whose only win in 10 previous starts came in a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs, finished 4 1/2 lengths in front of the previously undefeated Little Distorted who finished a disappointing third. Merit Man and Little Distorted both went postward as co-favorites at odds of 6-5.

Merit Man completed the distance over a fast track in 1:11.39 and paid $4.40.

“He moved forward like we talked about,” said trainer Bob Hess Jr. “He did the same thing in the Breeders’ Cup where he just breaks so sharp, but then it’s hard to take him back when he’s got the one hole. But he won in spite of it. It will only get tougher, but we’ll look at the Hutcheson in about a month.”

Hess said he plans to keep Merit Man at one turn for the time being. The Hutcheson is a Grade 2 stakes at seven furlongs.

“Everything about him says sprint,” Hess said. “My clients are wonderful, they put the horse first. Even though it’s tempting to stretch him out, I’m difficult to tempt.”