12/28/2011 2:46PM

Gulfstream Park: In the Rough looks to control high-priced optional claimer

Bob Coglianese
In the Rough looks like the controlling speed in the optional claiming feature Friday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – There are any number of logical contenders in Friday’s extremely competitive $64,000 feature race at Gulfstream Park. But only one, In the Rough, appears to have the speed to control the high-priced optional claiming event scheduled to be run at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

In the Rough is a versatile filly capable of winning with or without the lead. The first of her two victories this season came on the front end in a mid-level optional claimer at Monmouth Park, the second from a couple of lengths off the pace against third-level optional claimers at Laurel. In the Rough pressed the issue from the outset before tiring to finish third in her most recent start, the Lady Baltimore, decided over a yielding course at Laurel on Oct. 22.

In the Rough’s most important victory came in Feburary 2010 at Gulfstream, when she overcame trouble before rallying to capture the Coconut Grove Stakes. In the Rough indicated her readiness for her 4-year-old finale by breezing a black-letter half-mile in 51.40 seconds around the dogs over the Palm Meadows turf course Tuesday.

“I think this is a very competitive race, but she’s training good right now and has already won a stakes over this course,” said Kelly Breen who trains In the Rough for his principal customers, Lori and George Hall. “She blew out a bullet yesterday [Tuesday] with the rider just sitting on her for a half-mile. I think she’ll be close to the pace, if not on the lead outright, and I believe she’s an even better horse when she’s able to relax in front. She ran okay in her last start, although I didn’t think she seemed to like the turf that day.”

One trainer who would probably rather not see his horse anywhere near the lead, if possible, is Chad Brown whose Desert Sage will likely be favored in Friday’s main event. Desert Sage is coming off a popular but hard-fought head decision in a third-level optional claimer here earlier this month, a race during which she raced very rankly while sitting just off a very slow pace.

Desert Sage, who is undefeated in three starts over the Gulfstream Park turf course, ran a similar race when finishing fourth at Parx Racing earlier this year. Her best effort this season was a second-place finish in Pimlico’s Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap on May 21.

Other top contenders include Musical Rain and Tesoro de Amor, both of whom finished third going 1 1/2 miles in Grade 3 races in their last starts. Musical Rain rallied from far back to finish 3 1/4 lengths behind Hit It Rich in the Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct, while Tesoro de Amor was beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Casablanca Smile in Calder’s La Prevoyante Handicap.

The graded stakes placed pair of Unbridled Essence and Romin Robin and the stakes-placed Gold d’Oro complete the field.