Updated on 01/28/2012 5:25PM

Parx: Unbeaten but long-idle Norte Grande returns in sprint feature

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As a yearling, Norte Grande brought a mere $1,450 when he went through the sales ring at the Mountain Springs horse sale in Shartlesville, Pa., about 30 mile east of Penn National Race Course. Anybody could have claimed Norte Grande for a mere $9,000 out of his career debut as a 2-year-old in December 2010 or $25,000 three weeks later.

Norte Grande exceeded expectations by winning both his starts by a combined margin of more than 25 lengths. After a year on the sidelines, the now 4-year-old Norte Grande resurfaces Monday in the featured ninth race at Parx, a six-furlong starter allowance for horses who have run for $16,000 or less and have never won an allowance, or nonwinners of four lifetime.

Penn National-based trainer Murray Rojas, whose Sajor Stable also owns Norte Grande, said the small sale held every August at Mountain Springs is one of her favorite places to find bargains.

"You don't have to spend a lot to get a good horse," Rojas said. "I think I came away with 10 horses at that sale and all of them made money."

A year before she purchaed Norte Grande, for example, Rojas paid $2,100 at Mountain Springs for El Flaco, who wound up winning the $75,000 Parfaitment Stakes.

Norte Grande was bred by Ghost Ridge Farms near York, Pa., the same place where Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones stood for the 2011 season.  Rojas was glad to get Norte Grande, a son of Louis Quatorze out of the unraced Colonial Affair mare Hester Prynne,  beause "he was a really good-looking horse."

Rojas watched Norte Grande crush maiden claimers by 17 lengths in his career debut. Moved up the claiming ladder, he easily defeated conditioned $25,000 claimers by 8 1/4 lengths. Then it was time for an extended vacation.

"He has some issues," Rojas said, without going into specifics. "Then he got a quarter crack. It was one thing after another. No surgeries, but he does have issues."

Idle since Jan. 10, 2011, Norte Grande has prepped for his comeback by recording five bullets out of six published workouts since early November. The list includes a four-furlong breeze from the gate in 46.40 seconds, three furlongs over a good track in 34 flat, and a best-of-61 four-furlong move in 47.80 seconds on Jan. 20.

Rojas is optimistic Norte Grande will run well, but concedes "when they're off for a year, you never really know how they'll come back."

The trainer said that Norte Grande appears to have the potential to compete in stakes for Pennsylvania-breds. "He's that good. The question is whether he'll stay together."

Norte Grande, who will be ridden for the first time by Jose Flores, will break from the far outside in post 8 for Monday’s race. He is listed as third choice on the track’s morning line at 4-1.

Statistically, Rojas does not do well with long layoff types. She is just 3 for 34 with sprinters returning from a break of more than 180 days over the last five years.

Serendipper Moon, a three-length winner over similar starter allowance competition three weeks ago, is likely to vie for favoritism with New York shipper Jet Set Vinny and the consistent 4-year-old gelding Whoville.

Jet Set Vinny, claimed by Rudy Rodriguez for $15,000 two starts ago, rallied to get third when raised to $35,000 by his new connections. He brings along New York rider Cornelio Velasquez.

Whoville has not been worse than third in six lifetime starts, five in the starter allowance ranks. He missed by a head in a three-way photo last time out.