03/08/2013 2:32PM

Gulfstream Park: Sweet Shirley Mae taking a shot at two turns

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Barbara D. Livingston
Sweet Shirley Mae closed her 2-year-old campaign finishing third against males in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint last November.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Wesley Ward has been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to try his Grade 1-placed filly Sweet Shirley Mae around two turns. He will finally get that chance Sunday when Sweet Shirley Mae goes 1 1/16 miles against six other 3-year-old fillies in the afternoon’s $54,500 co-feature at Gulfstream Park.

Sweet Shirley Mae finished second behind So Many Ways in the Grade 1 Spinaway last summer at Saratoga before closing her 2-year-old campaign finishing third against males in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. Sweet Shirley Mae has made just one start at 3, checking home third behind the highly regarded Flashy Gray in a seven-furlong optional-claiming dash here last month.

“I’ve been waiting to do this for a while,” Ward said when talking about Sweet Shirley Mae’s two-turn debut. “She’s bred to go long, and she’s a big strapping filly who looks like she wants to go a route of ground.”

Ward said he also has noticed a big difference in Sweet Shirley Mae during her recent workouts.

“She used to get outworked every time in the morning, although you put her in a race in the afternoon and she runs like hell,” said Ward. “But her last two works have kind of been eye-openers. She’s outworked her mates each time, which I think is an indication that she’s maturing and starting to really come around.”

Ward said he is looking for Sweet Shirley Mae to sit off the pace and have plenty of late kick Sunday.

The trainer said that in the Spinaway he had told jockey Kent Desormeaux “to take her way back and make one run, and he rode her exactly like I told him. She made a big move from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole then got a little tired after that. I’ve got Julio Garcia on her Sunday, and he can really get a horse to settle nicely and finish. He didn’t beat her up at the end in her last start when chasing that good filly of Bill Mott’s” – Flashy Gray – “and she came back to the barn full of energy, which leads me to believe she’ll really move forward off that race.”

Sweet Shirley Mae is one of two fillies Ward has in the field, along with entrymate Almost an Angel, a daughter of Artie Schiller, who also is owned by Ice Wine Stable. Almost an Angel has done the majority of her racing on turf and synthetic surfaces. She finished a distant eighth and last in her lone try over dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Trainer Ken McPeek also will send out a pair, the uncoupled duo of Kimberly Jean and Montana Native, both of whom are coming off their maiden wins.

Kimberly Jean overcame a tough outside post in a race carded here at 1 1/16 miles to register a 1 3/4-length maiden win on Jan. 25. Montana Native was even more impressive on graduation day, rallying to an 8 1/2-length triumph going a mile Feb. 8.

One of the keys to the race is the status of Close Hatches, a runaway winner of her only previous start, who also was entered in Saturday’s Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Close Hatches drew off to a seven-length maiden win while earning a modest 73 Beyer Speed Figure when sent seven furlongs in her debut.