01/07/2010 12:00AM

Gulfstream Park roundup



The Jersey Boys

The early portion of Sunday's opening-day program at Gulfstream was dominated by jockeys "Jersey" Joe Bravo and Jose Lezcano who combined to win the first four races on the card.

Bravo, a New Jersey native, got his meet off to a good start with a pair of victories on opening day, including an impressive tally for another "Jersey boy," Kelly Breen, aboard the promising 3-year-old prospect Never Quicker. A third-generation rider, who when healthy dominated the New Jersey circuit from the mid-1990s until finally ceding the top spots at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands the past two seasons, Bravo registered the first major victory of his career at Gulfstream in 1997 when he won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap with Formal Gold. He also suffered a couple of serious injuries on the local front during the past decade that robbed him of significant riding time through the peak of the winter season. Bravo figures to have a strong meet - if he can avoid the injury jinx - with trainers like Breen, Nick Zito, and Patrick Biancone, among others, in his corner.

Lezcano's stock rose to new heights here last winter after he captured the local riding title. The Panama native ended Bravo's five-year reign atop the Monmouth standings in 2008, and although he spent the majority of his time on the New York circuit last year, he did return to the Meadowlands this past fall and had another good meet.

Like Bravo, he also won a pair on opening day, getting the second of those victories with a nifty ride on the grass aboard longshot Doctor Carina for trainer Tom Proctor.

Lezcano may get even more national attention this winter and spring as the regular pilot for the highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospect Buddy's Saint, who is scheduled to make his local debut next month in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

John Velazquez

Velazquez ended a very somber week on a positive note by winning back-to-back races on opening day, including a victory aboard one of the big guns in his arsenal, Quality Road, in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope. Johnny V. had returned from his native Puerto Rico the previous evening following the death of his father early last week.

Todd Pletcher

Not surprising to see the six-time defending trainer champion make this list right off the bat. Pletcher wasted little time moving to the top of the standings after saddling a pair of winners on opening day, highlighted by Quality Road's impressive performance in the Hal's Hope. As usual, Pletcher's barn is loaded with a slew of 3-year-old prospects led by Rule, Super Saver, Aikenite, and Discreetly Mine (who will run Saturday in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid). He also has more than a half-dozen top older handicap horses, including Quality Road, multiple Grade 1 winner Take the Points, Harlem Rocker, the recently acquired Bribon, Munnings, Dunkirk, and Ready's Echo.

Tahitian Warrior

Gulfstream is well known for bringing out some of the best 3-year-old prospects each winter, and this is one horse who may ultimately fit that profile. Owned by Frank Calabrese and trained by Danny Miller, the son of Maria's Mon broke like an old pro, disposed of an early challenge from the well-supported General Song while kept off the inside rail by jockey E.T. Baird, and then drew away with complete authority through the stretch to a 4 3/4-length debut victory while earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. He went postward at a surprising 7-1, despite posting an incredible 57-and-change workout here in December.


One day into the meet and already a fairly significant-looking track bias to report on opening day, with the main strip appearing to be deepest along the rail. A similar trend also was apparent during training hours last weekend and earlier this week, especially when viewing sets of horses breezing. In almost every instance, those horses working nearest the rail were under much greater pressure to finish than their mates out in the two and three paths through the stretch, sometimes barely staggering to the finish line.

Although speed and primarily stalkers dominated the main-track events last Sunday, no horse on the lead and along the rail won a race on the card. Among those done in by the bias were Causeway's Kin in the opener. He lost a seemingly insurmountable advantage to Grand Captain when he labored suddenly inside the sixteenth pole along the rail. Others were Elarose, who stopped to a walk after setting a contested pace going a mile from the fence, and Pletcher's well-backed General Song, who also faded badly after dueling Tahitian Warrior from the rail while making his debut in the finale.

One of the best efforts of the day may have been turned in by You and I Forever, albeit in vain, in the Hal's Hope. The son of A.P. Indy made a big run at Quality Road - who was smartly kept several paths off the rail throughout the race by Velazquez - leaving the backstretch and around the turn before succumbing both to the deeper going on the fence and the inherent class of the winner once the pair settled into the stretch.


This one was a no-brainer after the stewards had to declare the third race on opening day a no-contest because of a lengthy delay in removing the starting gate from the turf course. The gate was still in its original spot, completely blocking the path to the finish line, as the field approached the stretch of the one-mile grass race for 3-year-old claimers. The track outrider did a good job alerting the riders of the potentially dangerous situation as they made their way out of the final turn. The majority of the jockeys in the 11-horse field either eased or pulled up their mounts at that point, although several, inexplicably, kept on riding, including Eddie Dominguez aboard Otomai, who rode the rail to an apparent 30-1 upset over the favored Thewifedoesntknow. The incident immediately rekindled memories of opening day here in 2005 when a similar tractor malfunction resulted in the first race of the meet also being declared a no-contest.


The turf course will be the focal point following Saturday's Sprint Showcase, with each of the next four stakes on the schedule carded for the grass, beginning Sunday with the Fort Lauderdale for older horses and continuing the following weekend with the Marshua's River, Dania Beach, and Sweetest Chant.


The problem when attempting to clock horses in south Florida at this time of year is that the local population is spread throughout the area, and it's only possible to see a few of the runners who'll compete here this winter on any given morning. My vantage point since Dec. 24 has been Gulfstream and will remain so, save for an occasional trip to Palm Meadows, for the next several months.

Don't have too many workout insights for Saturday's card. I did find Kerouac's final drill for his debut in the fourth race encouraging when he easily bested a set of three going a half in 48.26 seconds over a somewhat cuppy strip that did not yield many fast times the morning of Dec. 31. He does face a tough assignment, however, launching his career out of the mile chute. Another horse in that same event who worked that morning was Quiet All American. He went in company with and came out second best to the stakes-placed Guys Reward, who worked a half in 47.76 to the wire before being set down into the turn to complete five furlongs in 59.88. The latter may bear watching when he returns for his 3-year-old debut.

Hockeythehayman has looked very sharp breezing over the turf course each of the last two Sundays in preparation for Saturday's Turf Sprint. His 36-second clocking Dec. 27 was not only visually impressive but stands out, considering the dogs were so far removed from the inside fence that he probably worked closer to 3 1/2 furlongs than three that morning.


I'm With the Band

Trainer: Marty Wolfson

Last race: Jan. 2, 11th

Finish: 4th by 6

The best horse might not have won the last race of the Calder meet but could prove a good bet when she returns during the Gulfstream meet. A daughter of Dixieland Band making her debut under a $20,000 price tag, she walked out of the gate from a deadly inside post, then put in a solid closing surge despite changing leads late down the stretch. The most impressive part of her race was the gallop-out - she motored past the leaders a few yards past the finish line before continuing on strongly into the turn.


Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last race: Jan. 3, 7th

Finish: 3rd by 1 1/4

Son of Dynaformer showed some renewed life dropping into allowance company for the first time since shipping to the U.S. last season. He got within a half-length of the leaders despite getting checked and shuffled briefly near the quarter pole and having to alter course to the inside at midstretch before getting outkicked to the wire by the top two finishers.

The Director

Trainer: Nick Zito

Last race: Jan. 3, 9th

Finish: 4th by 12

Nicely bred son of Mr. Greeley broke last, made a little middle move, and continued willingly to defeat eight of his 11 rivals in a race that graded out extremely fast on opening day. The Zito barn usually does its best work with young maidens the second time around.