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Gulfstream Park roundup
After getting off to a 1-for-27 start in the first six days of the meet and making our last "Who's Not" list, Maragh caught fire and jumped to the top of the "Who's Hot" parade by winning eight races in the second full week of the session, including four on Thursday, Jan. 14. A mainstay the last several winters in New York, it would appear Maragh and his agent, Richard DePass, have made a sound decision taking their business to south Florida this year.
The Venezuelan native seems well on his way to rebounding from a disappointing 2009 Gulfstream meeting after posting five victories last week. Three of those tallies came Monday, two over the turf course and a third aboard former Grade 2 stakes winner Timber Reserve for trainer John Kimmel.
He has been as consistent as any rider here this winter, ripping off a five-day winning streak last week before being shut out on Monday's card.
The Hall of Famer finally got untracked over the weekend, posting two victories last Saturday and a third with steadily improving 3-year-old Ice Box in Monday's main event. Zito sends out his top Kentucky Derby contender, Jackson Bend, for the first time in Saturday's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes.
Up-and-coming turf mare registered her fifth consecutive victory and second stakes win when she rallied to beat a graded stakes-caliber field in the Marshua's River in her 2010 debut. Trained by Shug McGaughey for owner Stuart Janney III, she has recorded all five of her wins after teaming up with jockey Eddie Castro.
The second full week of the meet did not appear to be as biased as the first, although there were a few trends worth noting, including a surprising change immediately after the rails were moved out an extra 12 feet on both turf courses. A seemingly minor shift suddenly gave speed horses renewed life after horses on the lead had virtually no chance of winning over the first six days of the session.
The main track played evenly when racing resumed Wednesday, Jan. 13, following a pronounced outside bias on the previous card three days earlier. But handicappers were obviously unprepared for the shift in balance on the turf, with three of the four winners on the lead throughout, including the 21-1 Bright Array and 12-1 Sun Pennies. The lone exception to the unexpected turf bias was Asphalt, a promising 3-year-old for trainer Eddie Kenneally who rallied down the middle of the strip to win a competitive entry-level allowance race over the inner course.
The closers' best chance during the six-day week came Jan. 14, when four of the first five races on the main track were captured from off the pace, including victories by King Kitten and Our Dreamette, who rallied five and six wide off the final bend.
Speed had a slight edge over the main track Friday, Jan. 15, the card highlighted by the performances of Christine Daae, an extremely promising 3-year-old filly, and Qualia, a stakes-bound filly who overcame traffic trouble on a couple of occasions to win her entry-level allowance condition.
No real biases to report over the weekend, even with Sunday's heavy rains, which left the racetrack a sea of slop and relegated all four scheduled grass races to the main track, including the Sweetest Chant Stakes. Although the first two events on the card were taken by wide-running closers, front-runners won their share of races as the day progressed.
PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK
There were several performances of note last week, many by up-and-coming 3-year-olds who'll bear watching as the meet progresses.
Slipped along the hedge to win an entry-level allowance race on the turf for trainer John Kimmel. New York-bred daughter of Lemon Drop Kid is likely to appear in a stakes next time.
Promising Malibu Moon colt beat a very strong field of maiden special weight horses and will stretch out to either a mile or even around two turns at 1 1/8 miles when stepping up to the next level against first-level allowance competition.
She ran off the screen to win her maiden going seven furlongs in her first start over conventional dirt. A Patrick Biancone trainee, she earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
Late-developing daughter of Saarland got stopped at the quarter pole and again near the eighth pole but managed to wear down the leader once she extricated herself from traffic. Should be testing stakes waters before the end of the meet.
Stretch-running son of Yet It's True was last at the quarter pole but first at the wire in the Dania Beach and is unbeaten in two starts. Looks like another major turf player this season for trainer Christophe Clement.
Good to see the injury-plagued but talented Grade 2 winner get back on the right track after wearing down a loose-on-the-lead and dead game Pechito to capture a nine-furlong allowance race Monday. The Donn might come up a little quick, but there is always the Gulfstream Park Handicap to consider later in the session.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED
Remember the third race on opening day? How can anyone forget the confusion that prevailed as the field rounded the final bend and the starting gate was still stretched across the turf course. Remember who crossed the finish line first that day, only to lose the apparent victory after the race was correctly declared a no-contest? Trainer Manny Tortora's Otomai - the same Otomai who Monday returned to defeat the same field over the same course under similar maiden claiming conditions. This time the win counted, and those who remembered and kept the faith were rewarded with a $33.60 win mutuel.
The Sunshine Millions highlights the action during the upcoming week, although the event is not what it used to be, having been cut from four to three races apiece here and at Santa Anita, with purses slashed all around. The richest and most anticipated of the three local events is the Turf, with Soldier's Dancer expected to defend the title he won at Santa Anita a year ago. This Ones for Phil, impressive winner of the Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream last winter, also will return in the Sprint.
Some thoughts on Saturday's card based on workouts observed at Gulfstream the last several weeks.
Crafty's Last Call (2nd race): Flashed good early speed from the gate Jan. 6, covering his opening three furlongs in 34.90 in company, but he did get a little leg-weary at the end, completing five furlongs in 1:01.34 under pressure. May prove a pace factor but probably will need one against this crowd.
Savemyspotimbeting (2nd race): Was put to pressure for only the final furlong of what appeared to be a half-mile gate work in 48.74 on Jan. 13, before galloping out a strong five-eighths in 1:00.76. Has had plenty of foundation in preparation for his debut. Note that 57.80 five-furlong drill Dec. 13 matched that of stablemate Tahitian Warrior, an impressive debut winner on opening day.
Gift Coupon (3rd race): Had little chance over a speed-favoring strip when knocked back to last at the break when a beaten favorite in his local bow. He returns off a sharp five-furlong drill in company in 59.95, albeit over a quick track here Wednesday. Definitely deserves another look wheeling back against similar.
Just Playin Around (4th race): Loved his half-mile blowout in 47.20 over a very deep track Jan. 11. Appears to be maintaining the sharp form he displayed closing out his 2009 campaign in Jersey.
Honor in Peace (6th race): Was very fast early on - an opening half-mile in 46.70 - and galloped out an aggressive six furlongs in 1:13.09 on Jan. 15 in his final prep for his 3-year-old debut.
Game On Dude (7th race): Was not asked for speed, going an easy half in 50.22 in final preparation for his debut.
Bushwhacked (7th race): Looked sharp shading 47 for his final half-mile of that bullet five-furlong drill Jan. 8. Could be sitting on a good one right off the bat, albeit in a very competitive spot.
Homeboykris (9th race): Has looked much stronger in each of his last two works, including that 1:12-and-change six-furlong bullet Jan. 12 into a stiff headwind down the backstretch. Finished up even better in a recent half-mile blowout, going his final quarter in 23.05 on Tuesday.
HORSES TO WATCH
Day of Destiny
Trainer: Chad Brown
Last race: Jan. 14, 9th
Finish: 7th by 4 3/4
Son of Distorted Humor came highly touted for his 3-year-old debut but lost all chance when he was steadied sharply in traffic midway down the backstretch, sending him to the rear of a full and very competitive field. He recovered to make a five-wide run entering the stretch but was much too late to affect the leaders. Expecting much better the second time around.
Trainer: Angel Penna Jr.
Last race: Jan. 16, 5th
Finish: 5th by 6 3/4
French-bred launched his U.S. career with a promising performance returning from an 18-month layoff. Broke a step slowly before putting in a five-wide run around the final turn, but he probably needed the race and failed to sustain the rally. Should prove much more effective with a race under his belt and over this course.
Trainer: Michael McDonald
Last race: Jan. 16, 7th
Finish: 5th by 4
Slow-breaking son of Empire Maker did his thing once again at the gate, coming away well behind the field when returning to the scene of his maiden win last winter. He put in an encouraging six-wide bid to reach contention entering the stretch and seems to be down at the right level to get back on the winning track if he can manage to leave with the rest of the pack.