12/03/2012 3:17PM

Gulfstream Park: Rosario quick to introduce himself

Bob Coglianese
Bernie the Maestro is ridden to victory in the Rapid Transit on Claiming Crown day by Joel Rosario.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Any doubts about whether Joel Rosario would have a major impact on the local jockey colony riding regularly here for the first time this winter were quickly erased opening weekend after he posted hat tricks on each of the first two cards of the 2012-13 session.

Rosario, 27, moved his tack to the East Coast from Southern California this past summer and had a successful stay in New York, finishing fourth in the standings at Saratoga and third during Belmont Park’s fall meeting. Rosario is not a total stranger to Gulfstream, having ridden Final Mesa to victory for Wesley Ward in the Grade 3 Old Hat in January 2011.

“I’m very happy to get off to a fast start,” said Rosario, who won two of the seven Claiming Crown races on Saturday’s card. “I decided first to try New York and then down here to Florida because I felt there were more opportunities on the East Coast. And it also puts me a lot closer to my family, who are in the Dominican Republic, than when I was riding in California.”

Rosario said part of his decision to come to south Florida for the winter also was weather-related.

“I have a lot of trainers down here I’ve been riding for in New York who race here during the winter,” said Rosario, whose engagements are being handled by veteran agent Ron Anderson. “And it’s also too cold up in New York during the winter. I love this weather. I love Florida.”

Miller going solo for now

Danny Miller presently has a one-horse stable at Gulfstream. The remainder of his south Florida contingent is currently quarantined at Hawthorne Park because of restrictions created by the devastating equine herpesvirus outbreak at the Illinois track.

But the one horse Miller does have here is a pretty good one, the multiple graded stakes winner Romacaca, who will close out another big year in Sunday’s South Beach Stakes on the turf. Romacaca, who was consigned to the November Fasig-Tipton sale but did not meet her reserve, tuned up for the assignment working an easy five furlongs in 1:02.82 over the main track under jockey Francisco Torres on Sunday.

“She couldn’t be doing better,” Miller said. “She didn’t work fast, but she couldn’t have worked any easier and she’s not the greatest work horse in the world when going by herself over the main track. Cisco said it’s scary how well she’s doing right now.”

Romacaca is in the midst of another banner season for Miller and owner Frank Calabrese. She has won 3 of her 7 starts on the year, including the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap at Arlington Park and the Indian Maid Handicap from gate to wire at Hawthorne in her most recent try Oct. 6.

“Thank goodness I was able to get her out of there before all the trouble started,” Miller said. “I have another 12 stuck back at Hawthorne, five that should be here, including a nice 2-year-old of Frank’s by Lewis Michael, Lewis’ Anna, who is coming off his maiden win. The plan for him was to take him home for 30 days to freshen up then bring him down here, but now he’s stuck at Hawthorne with no place to run. He’s an Illinois-bred, but the only Illinois stakes they’ve got he’s not eligible for. And there’s no telling now when we’ll be able to get our horses out of there.”

Kassen barn off quickly

Trainer David Kassen got off to a hot start for the meet, sending out Nikki’s Sandcastle to capture Saturday’s Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes and his younger sibling Where’s the Baby to upset an allowance race the following afternoon at 6-1. Both horses are by the Irish-bred stallion Castledale out of Sandtina and are owned by Richard Sherman.

“He’s an improving horse and a lot like Nikki’s Sandcastle in that he tries every time and can run on any surface,” Kassen said of Where’s the Baby. “I guess he was such a big price today because there was a question whether he runs well on dirt. He’d only had two races on dirt and neither of those showed in his recent past performances.”

Nine races on Friday card

After drawing only eight-race cards Wednesday and Thursday, Gulfstream’s racing secretary, Dan Bork, was able to readily fill a nine-race program for Friday that included three allowance events. Many Calder-based horsemen, who declined to enter earlier in the week as a result of the ongoing stall-rent dispute at their track, suddenly opted to put horses in for Friday, with the program attracting 99 entries including also-eligibles, more than a third of those horses presently stabled at Calder.

The current situation centers around the $10 per-day stall rent Calder management has imposed on horsemen who remain stabled at the track when it is dark during the winter. A number of Calder trainers believe Gulfstream Park should help defray some of that cost for their support in filling entries throughout its 90-day meet.

“Field sizes are important to us and our fan base,” Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said. “We continue to work with the horsemen through the difficult times, and we’re looking for an answer that will be fair to all sides.”

Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said his board is “continuing to work with both parties [Gulfstream and Calder] in an attempt to work out a solution to the problem.”

** A pair of participants in this year’s Breeders’ Cup topped the Gulfstream Park work tab Monday. Merit Man, beaten a nose as the 1-2 favorite in the Juvenile Sprint for his first loss in three career starts, breezed an easy half-mile in 49.99 seconds and galloped out five-eighths in 1:04.16 immediately after the first renovation break for trainer Bob Hess Jr. Eldaafer, who finished a distant seventh in the Marathon, worked five-eighths in 1:03.23 for trainer Diane Alvarado. Eldaafer won the Marathon in 2010.

** Pants On Fire, who finished a disappointing sixth as the 3-5 favorite after acting up in the starting gate before the Delta Mile, posted the bullet work for five furlongs at Palm Meadows on Monday, covering the distance in a swift 59.03 seconds.