01/17/2013 3:18PM

Gulfstream Park: Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint race flow should favor Emma's Encore

Barbara D. Livingston
Grade 1 winner Emma's Encore , with trainer Allen Jerkens, is the lone closer in a field full of early speed in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Emma’s Encore gave Allen Jerkens his first Grade 1 victory at Saratoga in five years when she won the Prioress last summer. On Saturday, Emma’s Encore will attempt to give the Hall of Fame trainer his first victory in Gulfstream Park’s Sunshine Millions series since Miss Shop captured the Filly and Mare Turf in 2007 when she takes on six rivals in the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.

Emma’s Encore rallied from last to get up in the final stride to defeat Judy the Beauty by a nose to win the six-furlong Prioress. That achievement came four weeks after Emma’s Encore had used similar tactics to register a much easier 2 3/4-length triumph in Belmont’s Grade 3 Victory Ride.

Both Emma’s Encore’s graded stakes wins came against 3-year-olds. She did not fare as well when taking on older horses at the end of the season, finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom and eighth in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America to conclude her 3-year-old campaign.

Jerkens gave Emma’s Encore a bit of a break before putting her back in training here last fall.

“She’s doing well,” said Jerkens. “She seems like she should be up to her best race the way she’s been training. There looks to be a lot of speed in the race and that should make it good for her. The funny part of it is, she won a race here last year going to the lead although not with these types of horses. It looks like a good spot to bring her back. At least I hope so.”

Emma’s Encore should get a legitimate pace to run at in the six-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint with each of her six rivals – R Holiday Mood, Becausei’mworthit, Honey Chile, Isn’t She Grand, Golden Mystery, and Wild Bout Tiffany – all having a turn of early foot.

R Holiday Mood will be making her first start since finishing fourth behind reigning Eclipse Award champion sprinter Musical Romance after forcing the pace in the Grade 2 Inside Information here in March. A three-time stakes winner, R Holiday Mood has been training steadily for her return for trainer Todd Pletcher at Palm Meadows.

“She had a knee issue that we stopped for,” said Pletcher. “She’s been ready for a couple of weeks but we zeroed in on this for her comeback. She’s always done well at Gulfstream and she’s training exceptionally well.”

Becausei’mworthit is rarely headed during the early stages of her races. She opened a long lead only to falter late and finish second in the Minaret at Tampa Bay Downs in her last start.

Honey Chile, a distant second behind It’s Me Mom in the 2012 Sunshine Filly and Mare Sprint, showed some early speed from a dead rail before finishing a well-beaten fifth behind the odds-on Dust and Diamonds in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl earlier in the meet.

Sunshine Millions Sprint appears wide open

Bahamian Squall tops a well-matched field of 12 Florida-bred sprint specialists in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint. The improving Bahamian Squall is coming off an impressive 3 1/2-length decision over Fort Loudon in the Sunshine State Stakes to close out his 3-year-old season.

“He’s training well, looks well and I think he’s probably coming off his best race yet,” said David Fawkes, who trains the homebred Bahamian Squall for Donald Dizney. “He just seems to keep getting better. I’m glad we gave him the time after the Sunshine State and didn’t run him back in the Mr. Prospector because he ran such a hard race that day. I think he’s got a good chance but it’s a big field and it looks really wide open. It’s a very competitive race.”

Among the other key contenders in the six-furlong sprint are Off the Jak, Little Drama, Bernie the Maestro, and Close It Out.

Off the Jak is coming off the best race of his career, a game second-place finish behind Indiano in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector on Dec. 29.

Little Drama will look to rebound off a fifth-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Sunshine State. Little Drama had finished second in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap and fourth in the Grade 1 Vosburgh in his two previous starts.

Bernie the Maestro has won four of his last five starts, including both outings since being claimed by trainer Mike Maker last summer at Saratoga. He earned a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit here on opening day.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman