10/07/2008 11:00PM

Trainer confident Big Drama can handle distance

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MIAMI – Big Drama will be the center of attention here a week from Saturday when he attempts to complete a sweep of the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, the main event on what figures to be an outstanding 17th edition of Calder’s Festival of the Sun.

Big Drama cruised to relatively easy victories in the opening two legs of the series, the six-furlong Dr. Fager and seven-furlong Affirmed Stakes. And trainer David Fawkes is confident his colt will handle the extra distance of the 1 1/16-mile In Reality next week despite the fact he’s never been around two turns and hasn’t raced since capturing the Affirmed on Sept. 6.

“You’ve always got to be concerned coming into any race, but he couldn’t be doing better and I have no worries about him handling the distance,” Fawkes said by phone from Delaware Park, where he has 14 horses stabled along with the 25-horse contingent he maintains at Calder.

Big Drama has not missed a beat in his training since the Affirmed. Fawkes sent him out over a sloppy racetrack to work an easy half-mile in 49 around the dogs here on Sunday rather than wait another day for a dry track.

“I two-minute-licked him from the wire to the half-mile pole and then let him just breeze home a half in 49,” said Fawkes. “He did it all on his own. He loves the wet stuff and the track was really pretty safe. It was no problem at all. I’ll probably give him one more, quicker work this weekend and he’ll be ready to go.”

Fawkes had the option of running Big Drama back in the Foolish Pleasure Stakes on Sept. 27, as several of his prospective rivals in the In Reality did, but opted to train his horse into the Stallion Stakes finale.

“Going a mile and one-sixteenth with him is no concern,” said Fawkes. “Running him back in three weeks and then three weeks again would have been a bigger concern for me. I don’t know how some of these other guys get away with that. I know I don’t. These are young horses and I just don’t like the idea of racing them too hard at this stage of their career.”

Not just for 2-year-olds

While Big Drama’s quest to sweep the Stallion Stakes will be the big story next Saturday, the Festival of the Sun card figures to attract several prominent older horses in both the $100,000 Spend a Buck and Miami Mile handicaps.

The 1 1/16-mile Spend a Buck closed with 13 nominations, led by Gottcha Gold, runner-up a year ago in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Local 3-year-old kingpin Smooth Air was also nominated for the Grade 3 Spend a Buck but will bypass the race in lieu of the Breeders’ Cup Classic the following week.

The Spend a Buck also attracted nominations from local handicap star Sweetnorthernsaint, Finallymadeit, and Mambo Meister, along with the well-traveled Judiths Wild Rush, who is coming off a victory in the Waquoit Stakes at Suffolk Downs.

The grassy Miami Mile, which is also a Grade 3 event, attracted 22 nominees, including the locally based turf star and Grade 3 winner Soldier’s Dancer. Among the out-of-towners on the nomination list are recent stakes winners Salinja and Wise River.

Honoring a retired star

Calder will carry on a local tradition on Festival of the Sun Day with the Retired Thoroughbred Ceremony, this year honoring the multiple graded stakes winner Shake You Down, who retired last season at the age of 9. Shake You Down won 22 of 65 starts, including Calder’s Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap in 2003. He also won the Grade 3 Bold Ruler and True North handicaps that season.

Shake You Down had the majority of his success with trainer Scott Lake, who claimed the son of Montbrook for $65,000 in the interest of owner Robert Cole Jr. in 2003. Shake You Down is residing at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Florida divison at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ocala.