01/05/2012 2:10PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Gibson faces speed challenge in Pelican Stakes

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Jim Lisa
Gibson will seek his third straight victory in Saturday's Pelican Stakes.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Gibson has won his last two starts, including a stunning upset over a strong field of Florida-bred sprinters in the $125,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Stakes at Calder two races ago. He figures to be one of the favorites Saturday when a field of nine older sprinters meet in the $60,000 Pelican Stakes going six furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs.

While trainer Gerry Bennett is pleased with the way his quick-stepping Gibson County gelding is coming into the Pelican, he was quick to point out his main speed threat could come from Quiz Whiz, winner of the Pelican prep and a horse Bennett says loves the Tampa Bay Downs surface.

“This horse came into that race with a win, two seconds, and a third from four starts over the track and nobody was paying any attention to him,” Bennett said. “He went off like 8-1 and probably should have been 3-1.

“My horse worked a good half mile [48 seconds] the other morning and I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the field, but I have a lot of respect for Quiz Whiz.”

Gibson will be shooting for his sixth win from 14 career starts. In the Dudley, Gibson was overlooked at 34-1 but went right to the front of that six-furlong sprint, cut out fractions of 21.42 and 44.67, then drew off late to be more than six lengths clear while timed in 1:10.54.

Gibson tried turf for the first time in his most recent start, a five-furlong optional claiming sprint, and again used his high turn of foot to wire a solid field in 55.96.

Quiz Whiz won the prep for the Pelican by a neck in a quick 1:09.85 and will be shooting for his third win from six starts at Tampa.

If Gibson and Quiz Whiz hook up in a speed duel a couple of late-running types, Why Pretend and It’s Never to Late, could come along to pick up the pieces.

Why Pretend rallied from off the pace to post a half-length win going seven furlongs here against allowance company last time out, while It’s Never to Late was third in the Sunshine State Stakes for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park and will be going after his 16th career win.

Rounding out the Pelican field are Good Lord, Gold Strike Begins, Tommy’s Memory, Generalissimo, and Action Andy.

◗ Also on Saturday’s card is a handicap for 4-year-olds and up at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. The 119-pound highweight is 7-year-old Anak Nakal, a winner of more than $1 million.