03/08/2009 11:00PM

Weekend works focus on Handicap


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Smooth Air, Cool Coal Man, and Bribon turned in works for Saturday's Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap at three different venues on Sunday morning. Smooth Air drilled five furlongs in 1:02.60 at Calder, Bribon went the same distance in 1:01.40 over the swifter Gulfstream Park strip, while Cool Coal Man breezed a half-mile in 47.90 seconds at Palm Meadows. Smooth Air's worked was the fastest by a full second on Sunday's tab at Calder.

Bribon will enter the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap off a six-length allowance victory here Feb. 12. A 6-year-old gelded son of Mark of Esteem, he has done most of his damage in the allowance ranks throughout his 24-race career, although did rally from far back to finish third in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last fall in New York.

"He seems to be doing well," said trainer Robert Ribaudo after the work. "I just hope he brings his 'A' game on a big day instead of when he's in an allowance race."

Bribon finished a tiring 10th as the 3-1 favorite in the Hal's Hope here on opening day.

A field of six to eight is expected for the Gulfstream Park Handicap, and along with Smooth Air, Bribon, and Cool Coal Man, it could also include as key contenders Formidable, How's Your Halo, and Finallymadeit. Formidable got in his final prep for the race going seven-eighths in 1:24.60 here Monday.

Up at Palm Meadows on Monday, Game Face tuned up for Sunday's Inside Information by working five furlongs in 1:00.20, while Warrior's Reward breezed the same distance in a more leisurely 1:02.50. Warrior's Reward is slated to make his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday.

Theregoesjojo staying locally

After weighing his options for a week, trainer Ken McPeek has decided to keep his leading Kentucky Derby prospect Theregoesjojo at Gulfstream Park for the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28.

McPeek had originally indicated a preference toward sending Theregoesjojo to Keeneland for the Blue Grass on April 11 following the lightly raced colt's second-place finish behind Quality Road in the one-mile Fountain of Youth here on Feb. 28. But McPeek said several factors played into his decision to stay in south Florida for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.

"We're here and he's doing fantastic. I don't want to wait an extra two weeks to run him," McPeek explained upon announcing his decision on Sunday morning. "In addition, it looks like the race is going to come up with a short field."

McPeek's choice to run in the Florida Derby also sets up the potential for a rubber match between Theregoesjojo and Quality Road. Theregoesjojo handed Quality Road his only setback in three career starts when the pair met for the first time in a seven-furlong allowance dash here on Jan. 10. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he is considering both the Florida Derby and Wood for Quality Road's next start, although noted he too was leaning toward the Florida Derby.

Beethoven, who finished a distant third in the Fountain of Youth, and the undefeated Dunkirk have already been confirmed as definite starters for the Florida Derby, while West Side Bernie remains under consideration for the race. Two of the last three winners of the Florida Derby, Barbaro (2006) and Big Brown (2008), went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Barbaro's kid brother places

Speaking of Barbaro, his baby brother Nicanor rebounded from a 10th-place finish in his career debut earlier in the meet with a promising second-place finish behind the odds-on Custom for Carlos in Sunday's eighth race.

Nicanor finished far back in his debut, after which Michael Matz, who also trained Barbaro, said his young prospect had grabbed a quarter when stumbling leaving the starting gate. Nicanor had no such issues on Saturday, breaking alertly to set the pace and fighting on bravely after relinquishing his lead.

"He's a good horse, he just needs experience," Matz said after the race. "He's still immature. The whole family was. But he's going to be a good horse. He just needs time. And I think he's begging to go around two turns."

Like Barbaro, Nicanor, a son of Dynaformer, is bred for the turf.

"I might leave him here for one more start," said Matz. "If not he'll go to Keeneland, where I don't think he'll have any problem handling the Polytrack, considering his turf breeding."

Sunny Saturday for Kenneally

Trainer Eddie Kenneally had a good day Saturday. In the morning, he worked his multiple graded stakes placed Keep the Peace a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Palm Meadows. Later that day, he sent out Custom for Carlos to win his maiden at second asking and longshot Rustic Flame to finish second in the Grade 3 Honey Fox.

Keep the Peace is scheduled to make her next start here Sunday in the Inside Information Stakes. The Grade 2 race is also expected to attract multiple graded stakes winners Game Face and Any Limit.

Money flowing

Business was booming again here Saturday. According to Gulfstream's president, Bill Murphy, total overall handle for the 10-race card was $10.3 million, up a healthy $3.3 million over the corresponding program in 2008.

Murphy said he attributes the gain, which mirrors a trend that has continued throughout the meet, to good racing and large field sizes.

"And don't forget the dollar beers," quipped Murphy. "The best sight I've seen this meet was a young guy running to the windows to bet with a beer in each hand and his wallet in his mouth."