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Harlan's Holiday back in spotlight
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Harlan's Holiday stamped himself one of the favorites for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 22 after defeating a strong group of allowance rivals in his 2003 debut here Sunday.
"It looks like he's back to his old self," trainer Todd Pletcher said just moments after Harlan's Holiday crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front of Bonus Pack in Sunday's fourth race.
Harlan's Holiday was making his first start since finishing a tiring fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30 of last year. It was also his first start over this track since he registered the most important victory of his career last winter in the $1 million Florida Derby.
"I was really happy with the race, especially the way he galloped out so strong," said Pletcher, who has had Harlan's Holiday in his barn since last summer.
Originally Pletcher had hoped to bring Harlan's Holiday back in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap on Jan. 11 but decided to pass the race because he felt his horse wasn't at the top of his game.
"If the race hadn't filled today I would have trained him into the Donn, but I felt a race would be beneficial," Pletcher said. "Hopefully 20 days between now and the Donn will be sufficient."
Along with Harlan's Holiday, the field for the Donn is expected to include Lido Palace, Hero's Tribute, Windsor Castle, and Best of the Rest.
Trust N Luck to work between races
Trust N Luck, among the leading candidates for the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15, will work for the first time over the Gulfstream Park track between the fifth and sixth races on Wednesday with regular rider Cornelio Velasquez aboard.
Whywhywhy, another potential candidate for the Fountain of Youth, worked seven furlongs in 1:25.80 at Santa Anita on Monday. Trainer Patrick Biancone has not decided whether Whywhywhy will run in the Fountain of Youth or in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes earlier on the same day.
Another possible West Coast invader with designs on the Grade 2 Hutcheson is the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Scrimshaw.
"Ozzie Cat will definitely run in the Fountain of Youth," Lukas's assistant Mike Maker confirmed on Monday. "If Scrimshaw comes he'll run in the Hutcheson."
Nonsuch Bay will miss Sabin
Saturday's Grade 3 Sabin Handicap lost one of its marquee names when Grade 1 winner Nonsuch Bay was withdrawn from consideration for the race after spiking a temperature last week.
"She just went back to the track for the first time today so the Sabin is out," trainer Frank Alexander said Monday. "The Rampart remains our goal if I can get an allowance race into her first. The Shirley Jones" - at seven furlongs on Feb. 14 - "is also an option, although not a likely one."
Alexander said having Nonsuch Bay get sick the week before her 2003 debut was just another element of a very frustrating week.
"Besides the filly getting sick I entered five horses last week," Alexander said. "Three of their races didn't go, the fourth didn't get into a turf race, and the fifth, Dynamite Miss, was the 8-5 favorite for the eighth race last Thursday that wound up being canceled when the loose horse broke through the safety rail."
Even without Nonsuch Bay, the Grade 3 Sabin comes up an attractive race with Allamerican Bertie and Softly in the lineup.
Allamerican Bertie will be the 120-pound highweight, and seeks to rebound from a 10th-place finish in the Honey Fox Handicap Jan. 5.
Allamerican Bertie won the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap and Grade 3 Delaware Oaks. She also finished second behind division champion Farda Amiga in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.
The filly and mare handicap division is particularly strong here this winter. In addition to Allamerican Bertie, Softly, and Nonsuch Bay, the group includes Summer Colony, Take Charge Lady, and Mandy's Gold.
Mandy's Gold worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Sunday morning. She finished up strongly, completing the final quarter-mile in just over 23 seconds.
"The boy just moved his hands a touch and she really took off down the stretch," trainer Mike Gorham said.
Gorham gave Mandy's Gold some time off after she completed her 2002 campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Top Flight Handicap. Mandy's Gold won five stakes last season, including the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap.
"I'll probably sprint her to start things off, although the Shirley Jones comes up a little too quick," Gorham said. "And so does the Rampart. I'd like to give her more time to build up to a mile and one-eighth. If everything goes 100 percent the Apple Blossom on April 5 is probably our first major goal."
DeCarlo a hot jock to watch
Jockey Chris DeCarlo turned in one of the most impressive rides of the meet when he guided Gal O Gal to a rail-skimming victory in Saturday's Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes.
The Herecomesthebride was the third stakes victory during the last two winters for DeCarlo, who won the Grade 2 Pan American Handicap aboard Deeliteful Irving and the Aventura Stakes with Marasca a year ago.
"I used to stay in New York in the winter but wasn't going anywhere so I decided to try my luck down here three years ago," DeCarlo said. "The first winter I won three stakes over at Tampa, and last year I did even better, winning the two stakes here before getting hurt four days after the Aventura. Obviously this is a tough meet for a rider, and for what I've been getting to ride I've done great thus far this winter."
DeCarlo has now won four races in a row aboard Gal O Gal, who is trained by Vinnie Blengs.
"She's just a little thing but ran like a giant in the stakes," DeCarlo said. "I knew I had a lot of horse going down the backstretch so I just sat in the pocket and waited for something to open. She did all the running. I just steered her."
DeCarlo returned Sunday to win the fifth race aboard Who Can Tell for trainer Allen Jerkens.
"I first started galloping horses for Allen in 1984," DeCarlo said. "So it's always really special when I win a race for him."
No beating this 'Brat'
Boston Brat put his name in the Gulfstream Park record books for the second time in 17 days after equaling the 5 1/2-furlong track record of 1:02.47 in a 10-length victory in Monday's fourth race. Boston Brat established the five-furlong track record of 56.20 seconds in winning a similar starter allowance race on Jan. 17. Boston Brat is owned by Mike Gill and trained by Mark Shuman.
Dates proposal avoids conflict
Gulfstream Park has amended its proposed racing dates for 2004 to open on Jan. 3 instead of Dec. 26, as in its original application. Closing day remains April 25. The change will prevent a potential conflict with nearby Calder Race Course which traditionally runs through Jan. 2.
"We have reassessed the schedule and this is our second amendment to our original dates proposal," said Gulfstream president Scott Savin. "There is still the potential to amend again and we are keeping our options open, but as of now we will open on Jan. 3."
Final dates proposals for the 2004 season must be filed by March 15.
High hopes for Point Given's kin
With two wins and two second-place finishes from four starts, Perfect Story has shown plenty of promise in her brief career. The daughter of Tale of the Cat has been favored in all four of her starts, owing, in part, to her being a half-sister to 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given; both are out of the Turkoman mare Turko's Turn.
John Ward Jr., who trains Perfect Story for John Oxley, said he expects even better from the 3-year-old filly, beginning with her start in a second-level allowance race in Wednesday's eighth race at Gulfstream Park.
"She's good. She's the real thing," Ward said Monday from Palm Beach Downs, where he is based this winter. "She ought to join the list of Grade 1 winners. She's the kind of horse that loves to race."
Perfect Story, who cost $975,000 as a weanling, comes off a 2 1/4-length victory against first-level allowance runners at seven furlongs here on Jan. 5. She also finished second to the unbeaten stakes winner Lady Tak in a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29. Wednesday's race, at one mile and 70 yards, marks her first start around two turns.
Perfect Story's rivals in the eighth race include Final Round, who is making her first start since finishing third in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 4.
* Deep Meadow, an allowance-level runner trained by Graham Motion, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack around 9:15 on Monday morning, just minutes after a four-furlong workout. Deep Meadow, who was timed in 49.40 seconds, breezing, died just as he left the track at a gap near the five-furlong pole. No other horses or persons were injured.
- additional reporting by Jay Privman