12/09/2011 2:43PM

Gulfstream: Trip for A.J. a family affair


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The last time Trip for A.J. and Askbut I Won’ttell met, they finished a half-length apart in that order fighting for the winner’s share of a $300,000 purse in the 2011 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf. The pair will square off again for a lot less swag – a mere $60,000 – when they head a full and well-matched field of filly and mare turf specialist in Sunday’s 7 1/2-furlong South Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Trainer Milt Wolfson is hoping Trip for A.J. can put an exclamation point on another outstanding season with a victory in the South Beach. The homebred has already won four races, including the Sunshine Millions Turf and banked more than $355,000 in 2011 for owner Peter Fuller. That topped her 3-year-old campaign in which she captured 6 of 12 starts for earnings in excess of $233,000.

To make the story even better, Trip for A.J. will be ridden for the second time in the South Beach by Fuller’s daughter Abigail, who guided her to a rail-skimming second-place finish in Calder’s Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap on Nov. 24. Fuller, 52, had not ridden competitively for nine years until returning in the Legends for the Cure race for female riders last spring at Pimlico. In her second race back, Fuller won a maiden race for her father last summer. She had two wins from 22 starts in the comeback through Friday.

“It’s a great story to have Abby riding this horse for her father,” said Wolfson. “It will be an even better story if they are able to win this race. She got a good trip in the My Charmer, she just got beat. We’re fortunate to have drawn a good post near the inside with such a short run to the first turn on Sunday, and I’ve already won with her at 7 1/2 furlongs which may give us a little edge in the rematch with Askbut I Won’ttell.”

Wolfson said defending Trip for A.J.’s title in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf (Jan. 28) is definitely an immediate goal but did not rule out wheeling her back again in the Grade 3 Marshua’s River Handicap on Jan. 7, if she performs well in the South Beach.

Askbut I Won’ttell will be making a big turn back in distance, from a 1 1/2 miles to 7 1/2 furlongs, on Sunday, having finished fourth after joining the leaders at midstretch in Keeneland’s Dowager on Oct. 23. Askbut I Won’ttell won the 2010 My Charmer at Calder but went winless in five subsequent tries to open the current campaign before beating high-level optional claiming and allowance horses at Arlington Park on Sept. 17 for trainer Chris Block.

“She ran very well in the Dowager,” said Block. “We were trying to see if she could go that far, and it was probably a little beyond her capability. We know how capable she is at middle distances, but with the big field Sunday, it might be a matter of who gets the best trip.”

Speak Easy Gal, who finished a tiring eighth after pressing the pace in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf 11 months ago, could be the one to catch in the South Beach. That setback was one of only two Speak Easy Gal has suffered over the local course, and like Trip for A.J. she too is favorably drawn breaking from post position 4 on Sunday.

The biggest question mark in the race is Crying Lightening, an Irish-bred 3-year-old, who makes her U.S. debut for trainer James Toner. Crying Lightening, who will race with Lasix for the first time, is coming off a wire-to-wire victory in the EBF October Stakes at Ascot.

Other key contenders in the South Beach include the Grade 3-placed pair of Thai Haku and Aquitaine, along with stakes winner Hooh Why.