06/15/2012 5:47PM

Woodbine: One Big Gator grows up

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Michael Burns
One Big Gator got a confidence-building victory in a $12,500 claiming race.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - At this point in the meeting last year, trainer John Ross was putting the finishing touches on One Big Gator for a run in the Queen’s Plate.

Sent off at almost 60-1, One Big Gator tired heading into the far turn and wound up a well-beaten 15th in the field of 17.

Fast-forward to this Sunday and One Big Gator should be a considerably shorter price in the $125,000 Steady Growth, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward.

“We decided to take a shot,” said Ross, who trains One Big Gator for the Jam Jar Racing Stable of Bud and Jackie Reynolds.

“He was a gangly 2-year-old, and a gangly 3-year-old, but now he’s finally getting it all together.”

One Big Gator had recorded back-to-back second-place finish when returned to his first-level restricted allowance condition following the Queen’s Plate.

But One Big Gator then finished a disappointing last of six in the $125,000 Elgin, a 1 1/16-mile race restricted to horses who went through the ring at a local yearling sale,

Ross then rolled the dice when entering One Big Gator in a $12,500 claiming race for nonwinners of two and was rewarded when his colt scored by two lengths.

“I thought I’d get away with running him there,” said Ross. “It gave him a little confidence, and he started coming up the ladder again.”

That ascent began tentatively as One Big Gator ran fourth in a $20,000 claimer for nonwinners of three and concluded his campaign with a third-place finish in a second-level restricted allowance.

But, after wintering with Ross in Florida, One Big Gator has picked up the pace.

“He probably had his best winter ever at Payson Park,” said Ross, who sent out One Big Gator to finish a good fourth at seven furlongs before winning his second restricted allowance condition over 1 1/16 miles in a game performance.

“He’s coming off a win, which was a gutsy effort. If there’s ever been a time to try a race like this, it’s now.