12/20/2010 3:12PM

Manicero flashes speed tuning up for Tampa's Inaugural

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Jim Lisa
Manicero will close out his 2-year-old campaign in Sunday's Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs

MIAMI – Two of the top horses stabled on the grounds, the speedy 2-year-old Manicero and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama, put in fast and very impressive works within five minutes of one another on a clear but chilly Monday morning at Calder.

Manicero was the second of the pair to work but will be the first of the two to run back in Sunday’s $75,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Breaking with two overmatched rivals from the starting gate, Manicero was quickly all on his own after posting fractions of 23.20 seconds for the opening quarter and a blistering 34.08 for three furlongs before completing a half-mile around the clubhouse turn in 47.15 for trainer Leo Azpurua Jr.

Manicero has not started since dominating the seven-furlong Jack Price Juvenile Stakes by better than eight widening lengths on Nov. 13. That performance came on the heels of a seven-length maiden win two weeks earlier.

“I wanted to sharpen him up a little bit this morning because he hasn’t run in six weeks,” said Azpurua, who trains Manicero for his father, Leo Azpurua Sr. “This was the most serious work he’s had since the stakes and I was very pleased.”

Azpurua had two races to consider for Manicero’s next start, either the Inaugural or the $100,000 Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 8. Both races are carded at six furlongs.

“I left the decision up to the owners and they wanted to go to Tampa even though it was a little less money,” explained Azpurua.

Azpurua described Manicero as a “freak of nature” and believes he will have no problem handling distances at least up to a mile.

“When we stretched him out for his last race to seven furlongs it was on two weeks’ rest and he had no problem,” said Azpurua. “The good thing about him is that he’s well natured and rateable, He’s fast but not a speed freak, which is to my advantage. I think the Holy Bull is well within his reach.”

Azpurua was referring to the one-mile, Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Jan. 30. That race could be Manicero’s next objective if all goes well in Tampa.

Manicero would not be the first Calder based 2-year-old that Azpurua brought into the Holy Bull as a major player. In 1997, Azpurua sent out Sweetsouthernsaint as the even-money favorite in the Holy Bull off three straight victories to open his career at Calder. Unfortunately, Sweetsouthernsaint could not overcome a troubled trip, finishing third before going to the sidelines due to an injury that all but ended his career. Sweetsouthernsaint started just twice more before being retired at the end of his 4-year-old season.

“Sweetsouthernsaint and Manicero are both quality horses but two different types,” said Azpurua. “Sweetsouthernsaint needed seven furlongs just to get his motor going. Manicero is quicker but like I said should have no problem getting distances at least up to a mile.”