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No deluge of entries for Friday card
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As maintenance workers scurried between raindrops Wednesday afternoon to spruce up Gulfstream Park's plant for Thursday's opening, officials in the racing office sat next to phones that did not ring. Entries for Friday's 10-race card - the second day of the Gulfstream meet - did not close until after 5:30 p.m., hours later than normal.
A total of 89 horses were entered for the card, including 18 for the Honey Fox Handicap which, at time of entry, was questionable to be run on the turf course as scheduled. Six of the 10 races had seven-horse fields or less.
It was an ominous sign for anybody involved with the Gulfstream meet, a meet that has been expanded from 63 to 90 days and has 1,000 fewer horses to draw from with the closing of Hialeah Park.
Going into the meet, Gulfstream Park racing secretary Dave Bailey made a point of saying, "I don't believe filling entries will be a problem." It took only two days for him to be proved wrong.
On Thursday, management remained steadfast in its ability to run 62 races a week, one fewer than a year ago. The schedule will remain nine races on Mondays, 10 on Wednesday through Friday, 12 on Saturday, and 11 on Sunday.
Scott Savin, Gulfstream's president and general manager, attributed Wednesday's slow draw to the fact that Calder Race Course was open 14 of 15 days before Gulfstream's opening and conducted 165 races during that time. He also said Wednesday's unpredictable weather may have kept trainers away from the entry box.
"We really shouldn't have a problem," Savin said. "It might happen occasionally, but I think we'll be fine. We'll be relying on the continued support of our horsemen."
"`I think everybody's still trying to get settled, too," Bailey said. "The weekends are going to be fine. I think [Wednesday] was a fluke day. I think we're going to have some slow days; we did last year. Overall, we'll be fine until people have to go back to where they have to go back to."
Bailey was referring to the Kentucky and New York horsemen, who figure to ship back to their home tracks sometime in late March, weeks before Gulfstream closes on April 24. Beginning March 18, racing will be conducted five days a week as Mondays will join Tuesdays as dark.
Things were somewhat better on Thursday as entries for Saturday's 12-race card closed around 2 p.m. with 106 horses.
Old Hat rivals breeze
Forest Heiress, a three-time stakes winner, and Take the Cake, an unbeaten daughter of Fly So Free, each put in half-mile workouts Thursday morning over a sloppy Gulfstream track in preparation for Sunday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Jerry Bailey got to test drive Forest Heiress for the first time, guiding her through a four-furlong move in 50.20 seconds. "She worked great; I just went easy, never let her run," Bailey said. "The track's real funny."
Forest Heiress, a daughter of Forest Wildcat, has won 4 of 5 starts, including the Grade 3 Astarita and, most recently, the Grade 3 Valley Stream Stakes at Aqueduct where she ran six furlongs in a stakes-record 1:08.66. Despite her success, Bailey will be the fifth rider Forest Heiress has had.
Earlier in the morning, Take the Cake, who has won both of her starts, breezed four furlongs in 52.60 seconds. Trainer Carl Nafzger said he wasn't looking for much over the sloppy surface and was pleased enough with the move to confirm her as a runner Sunday.
Busy opening day for stewards
Opening day was a busy one for the stewards, who had two tough decisions to make on the 11-race card.
In the fourth race, George Handy sent out an entry of Lucky Sam and Lujean, which was 2-1 as the horses loaded into the gate. Lucky Sam acted up in the gate, was slightly injured, and was scratched on advice of the track veterinarian. Moments later it was announced that Lujean, the other half of the entry, would be scratched. Refunds were given on those who wagered on the entry.
Lujean was healthy enough to run, but the stewards felt that it would have been unfair to the betting public, which they deemed was really wagering on Lucky Sam, the supposed stronger half of the entry. In other jurisdictions, such as New York, the horse is allowed to run for purse money only, but is scratched for betting purposes. That rule is not in effect in Florida.
"He would have been 15-1 and we didn't think it was fair to the public" to let Lujean run, steward Charlie Camac said. "We checked with oddsmaker and asked him who would be the solid favorite."
Later on the card, the stewards disqualified Explorationist from first and placed him fourth for interfering with Gray Forum down the backstretch. It was a questionable call.
Inexplicable, who won the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Handicap over this course last February, has been retired, according to Ben Perkins Sr., father of and assistant to Ben Perkins Jr.
The elder Perkins said Inexplicable, whom he purchased from Lucy Young-Boutin after last year's Turf Handicap, pulled a ligament near the ankle. Perkins said Inexplicable will be sold as a stallion prospect.
In addition to the Canadian Turf Handicap, Inexplicable won the Grade 3 New Hampshire Sweepstakes when in the barn of Christophe Clement in 2000. Inexplicable finishes his career with 6-6-1 from 19 starts and earned $378,314.
Motion has new guns
Graham Motion has some pretty big holes to fill in his barn this year with the retirement of handicap stars Broken Vow and Confessional. He's hoping to fill those shoes with Trajectory and Litany, both of whom are expected to see plenty of action during the Gulfstream meet.
Motion entered Trajectory in Saturday's $100,000 Appleton Handicap on the turf but will run him only if the race is taken off the grass. If he doesn't start, Trajectory will run the following weekend in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap.
Trajectory, who began his career here at 3 with Bill Mott, has won 6 of 10 starts, including his 2001 finale in the Seagram Cup at Woodbine on Aug. 5.
"He had a little stiffness in behind after the race in Toronto so I just backed off him a bit," Motion said. "He's doing fine now and loves this track."
Litany, a 3-year-old full sister to the multiple stakes winning Confessional, captured her 2001 finale at Dealware by 24 lengths.
"It was extraordinary, I never had a horse run like that before," Motion said of Litany's first victory, which came in her third career start. "I put blinkers on her for the race and she just exploded. I gave her a little break like I do most of my 2-year-olds turning 3 but she's ready to go now and will probably make her next start in a one-other-than allowance race going long within the next couple of weeks."
- additional reporting by Mike Welsch