01/27/2011 1:30PM

Long-idle Amen Hallelujah returns in Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint

Bob Coglianese
Amen Hallelujah will be making her first start in almost eight months in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Rick Dutrow was looking forward to a huge weekend at Gulfstream Park with Amen Hallelujah the likely favorite in Saturday’s $200,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint and Boys At Tosconova expected to be the public’s choice the following afternoon in the Grade 3 Holy Bull.

But with Boys At Tosconova now out of the Holy Bull, Dutrow will have to be satisfied with a big effort from Amen Hallelujah, who returns from almost an eight-month layoff in the six-furlong Sprint.

Amen Hallelujah rose to the top of the 3-year-old filly division during the winter of 2010, kicking off the campaign with a victory over Franny Freud and Switch in Santa Anita’s Grade 2 Santa Ynez before shipping here to win the Grade 2 Davona Dale by more than six widening lengths. She ran into a buzzsaw in Devil May Care when second best in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss, could not overcome a bad post in the Kentucky Oaks, then closed out her abbreviated season when falling a half-length short of catching Champagne d’Oro in the Grade 1 Acorn.

“She had an issue with a cannon bone after the Acorn,” explained Dutrow, who trains Amen Hallelujah for the partnership of IEAH Stables and Whizway Farms. “But she’s done fabulous since coming back here, she’s been training like a monster, and this will be a big race for her on Saturday.”

Julien Leparoux, who teamed up with Amen Hallelujah to win the Davona Dale, will be back aboard for the Sprint.

While Amen Hallelujah remains a bit of a question mark returning from her long layoff, Grade 1 winner Jessica Is Back may pose an even bigger question to those handicapping the race.

Jessica Is Back, winner of the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap and third in the Grade 3 Ballerina last summer, was sold privately following her troubled ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She remained in trainer Marty Wolfson’s barn following the sale and opened her 2011 campaign with a very dull effort in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl, finishing a well-beaten seventh after flashing only brief early speed.

Those looking for alternatives to the two likely favorites might want to try Belle of the Hall or Feel the Fire. Belle of the Hall tired badly trying nine furlongs for the first time in the Grade 1 Ballerina, one month after posting a game win in the Catinca Stakes. The lightly raced Feel That Fire wheels right back off a very game allowance win here three weeks ago.

Other major players in the Sprint include multiple stakes winner My Irish Girl, stakes winner Wildcat Heiress, and the Grade 2-placed Broken Dreams.