03/30/2011 3:10PM

Gulfstream: Unrivaled Belle will use Rampart to tune up for La Troienne

Barbara D. Livingston
Unrivaled Belle (left) edging Rachel Alexandra in the 2010 La Troienne, will make her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic in Saturday's Rampart.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Subscribing to the theory that familiarity breeds success, the connections of defending Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle chose the Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs over the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park as an early season objective.

To get to the May 6 La Troienne, Unrivaled Belle will begin her 2011 campaign in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Rampart shares the bill on Saturday’s 12-race card with the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

Unrivaled Belle, trained by Bill Mott, won the Rampart last year before upsetting then-defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne. Because Unrivaled Belle has a history of acting up in the post parade and/or at the gate, Mott and owners Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler chose to keep the mare in familiar surroundings. Unrivaled Belle has never raced at Oaklawn.

“The Apple Blossom would be great,’’ Mott said Wednesday morning at Payson Park. “She’s difficult to handle so going to Churchill I think we’ve got it down a little easier how to manage her and get her to the starting gate. Oaklawn would have been a new experience for us.’’

Last year, Unrivaled Belle won the Rampart after running in the Grade 2 La Canada at Santa Anita. This year, she goes in without a prep.

“A mile and an eighth first time is going to be challenging for us I think, but her works have been good, she’s doing well, she’s put on weight, she looks good,’’ Mott said.

In order to get re-acquainted with Gulfstream Park, Mott shipped Unrivaled Belle from Payson to Gulfstream on Monday.

Unrivaled Belle will break from post 2 under Kent Desormeaux in the seven-horse field. The horse to beat is Awesome Maria, who won the Grade 3 Sabin by 4 3/4 lengths in her 4-year-old debut. She breaks from post 3 under John Velazquez. Others entered include Persuading, Joanie’s Catch, Successful Song, Dubai Dancer, and Stephanie Got Even.

It’s Tricky gets tested in Gulfstream Oaks

It’s Tricky, unbeaten in three starts, will try to prove herself worthy of being considered for the Kentucky Oaks when she makes her graded stakes debut in Saturday’s Gulfstream Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race which drew a field of seven. It’s Tricky drew the outside post.

It’s Tricky, a daughter of Mineshaft, won a maiden race over Aqueduct’s main track last Nov. 28 then won an allowance race by 4 3/4 lengths on Jan. 26 and the Busher Stakes by eight lengths on Feb. 20. With myriad races from which to choose, McLaughlin opted for the Gulfstream Oaks.

“We think she wants the mile and an eighth, we’re here so we brought her down here,’’ McLaughlin said Wednesday from his Palm Meadows barn. “We’ve always liked her; this is definitely her big test. If she should finish one-two we could go on to the Kentucky Oaks.’’

R Heat Lightning, the 7 1/4-length winner of the Grade 2 Davona Dale here on Feb. 26, will try to prove herself going nine furlongs in the Gulfstream Oaks. In her lone start around two turns, R Heat Lightning finished second to Awesome Feather in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

R Heat Lightning will break from post 5 under John Velazquez.

Others entered include Salary Drive, Triune, Kindersley, Beso Grande, and Island School.

Gio Ponti will return to Florida on Sunday

Gio Ponti, fifth in last Saturday’s Dubai World Cup, arrived at Belmont Park late Wednesday afternoon and after spending two days in quarantine is expected to van to Payson Park in time for a Sunday arrival.

After finishing fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths in the 2010 World Cup, Gio Ponti finished fifth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths on Saturday. In his first start since finishing second to Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, Gio Ponti seemed a bit fresh, raced closer to the pace than usual and was wide throughout under Ramon Dominguez.

“I thought the horse ran a remarkable race knowing that he did not have a prep race; he ran even better than I expected him too,’’ trainer Christophe Clement said. “He got beat 1 3/4 lengths without a prep race and no racing luck.’’

Clement said that Gio Ponti was one of three North American-based horses that suffered an allergic reaction to a bug bite in Dubai. Clement said the issue was resolved by raceday and that he was not using it as an excuse.

As he did last year, Clement will give Gio Ponti the month of April to recover from the World Cup and the long trip to Dubai and then start him back in training in May with the hopes of making the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park on June 11. Last year, Gio Ponti finished second, beaten a half-length, by his stablemate Winchester, in the Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Clement said that Winchester, who won the Manhattan and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, will make his seasonal debut in the Grade 2, $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland on April 29.

Data Link a candidate for Blue Grass but not Derby

Trainer Shug McGaughey said Data Link will be heading to Kentucky for the Grade 1 Blue Grass shortly after the steadily improving 3-year-old worked an easy three furlongs in 38.40 seconds here at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday.

Data Link, a 3-year-old son of War Front, has won each of his last three starts, including both a maiden special weight and entry-level allowance race here this winter. All three of those victories have come on the grass.

“He’ll ship this weekend,” said McGaughey. “I just wanted to give him an easy work this morning before he goes.”

McGaughey said he wants to give Data Link an opportunity to get over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland prior to the Blue Grass on April 16.

“He’s never even seen Polytrack before,” said McGaughey. “If he doesn’t handle it we’ll do something else.”

McGaughey said the Blue Grass is not being used as a prep for the Kentucky Derby.

“We’re not looking at the Derby with him,” said McGaughey. “I think he’s probably best on grass but we just wanted to try the synthetic and see how he did. The timing and everything else is good for this race.”

McGaughey said Alex Solis, who has ridden Data Link to each of his three victories, will again have the mount if the horse runs in the Blue Grass.

Pleasant Prince resumes training

Pleasant Prince, who was beaten a nose by Ice Box in the 2010 Florida Derby, breezed slow half-mile under wraps in 52 seconds here Wednesday. The work was just the second on the comeback trail for Pleasant Prince, who has not started since finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Pleasant Prince went on to win the Grade 3 Ohio Derby as well as the Oklahoma Derby following his heart-breaking setback in the Florida Derby earlier in the year. Trainer Wesley Ward said Pleasant Prince would continue to train locally for the next month before shipping north to either Churchill Downs or Belmont Park later this spring.

Jara relocates from New York

Tito Fuentes, who handled engagements for jockey Eibar Coa up until the time of his accident here last month, has been hired by Fernando Jara, who returned locally last week. Jara, who rode in New York this winter, recorded one of the most noteworthy victories of his career at Gulfstream Park in the 2007 aboard Invasor.

Fuentes said Jara will remain in south Florida and ride regularly at Calder following the conclusion of the Gulfstream meeting on April 24.

◗ Gulfstream Park will play host to the women’s handicapping and Florida Derby preview party on Friday from 2 to 7 p.m. in the presidential suite on the third floor of the clubhouse. Females of all ages and level of racing knowledge are welcome. Among the guest speakers will be Louisville Journal racing writer Jennie Rees and Mike Penna, president of the Horse Racing Radio Network.

◗ Alex Brown, author of the recently released “Greatness and Goodness, Barbaro and His Legacy” will be here Saturday to sign copies of his book. Brown will appear at both the Breakfast at Gulfstream program from 7 to 10:00 a.m. and again from 11 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at the north entrance.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch