Sunshine, palm trees, full fields - what else could weather-challenged racing fans in northern climes ask of winter racing at Gulfstream Park?
Well, big payoffs would be nice and Gulfstream's opening weekend provided those, too.
In Saturday's featured $150,000 Appleton Handicap, for example, Point Prince found racing room on the inside on the turn for home and edged clear in the stretch to win by 1 ¼ length over Krieger at odds of 29-1. Red Sea was third.
Point Prince, a 4-year-old son of Youmadeyourpoint, ran the 1 mile on the grass under Manoel Cruz in 1:37.84. The favorite, Balto Star, stayed close to the early pace but then faded badly to finish eighth of nine starters.
He was running good the whole way," said Cruz. "I rode him with confidence."
Two races earlier on the same program, Baileys Edge closed fastest of all to win the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap by a neck over Friendly Frolic at nearly 18-1 on the board. Out of Fashion was third and the favorite, Day Trader, was last.
Baileys Edge, a 6-year-old son of Mister Baileys, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.95 under Gary Boulanger. Trainer Steve Margolis said the horse was "training terrific at Palm Meadows so we decided to throw him into the race. We took a shot." He said the Feb. 9 Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream may be the next race for Baileys Edge.
San Dare continued the upset trend Sunday, rallying from last to win the $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap for fillies and mares by a head over Calista at odds of 11-1. San Dare, under Mark Guidry, came five-wide into the stretch and just outfinished the runner-up. Laurica was third. "She runs hard every time, so turning for home, I thought we had it," Guidry said. "She dug in when she had to."
On Friday, First Blush upset the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes for 3-year-olds, dueling down the stretch with Crafty Guy before finishing in front by ½ length. Silver Squire was third and the favorite, Super Fuse, finished fifth of nine. First Blush, a Kentucky-bred don of French Deputy, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.97.
In other weekend racing:
Things were a lot more formful in Saturday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap as heavy favorite Congaree came from off the pace, then drew off easily in the stretch to win by 6 lengths over Kudos. Hot Market was third. Congaree, with Jerry Baily flying cross-country for the ride, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.04. "Right now, he's a good horse," said Bailey, "and the fact that he's relaxing makes him even better. That was very impressive." Trainer Bob Baffert said he isn't making firm plans this year for the 4-year-old son of Arazi - even for the Feb. 22 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park or the March 29 Dubai World Cup. "He was so good as a 3-year-old and I had to rush him for the Wood and the Derby," Baffert said. This year, he added, "If he's ready and there's a race, we run." Ultimately, he said, he is interested in having Congaree ready for the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Santa Anita, where he is 3-for-3. "He loves this track," Baffert said.
In Saturday's $100,000 Pro or Con Handicap for state-bred distaffers, Shalini was just up at the wire to beat Serene in Seattle by a neck. Jenna's Joy, the pace-setter, was third. Shalini, a 4-year-old daughter of Urgent Request, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.59.
Friday, Icantgoforthat led from gate to wire in the $100,000 Survive Stakes for Cal-bred fillies and mares. A 4-year-old daughter of In Excess, Icantgoforthat beat Theresa's Year by 3 ½ lengths, running 5 ½ furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.84.
Sunday, Spinelessjellyfish, with Julie Krone up, worked to the lead at mid-stretch in the $100,000 Sensational Star Handicap, then held off Macward to win by a neck. The about 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course went in 1:11.84. "Julie's always in a good spot," said winning trainer Jenine Sahadi. "It's pretty fun. Hall of Fame rider. Female. Diggin' it."
Kona Gold may be 9 now but the sturdy gelding showed in Wednesday's $100,000 El Conejo Handicap that he hasn't slowed down much. Racing from well back, Kona Gold rallied along the rail to catch Radiata in the late going and win by a neck in 1:02.63. "That's his 27th race, so he hasn't been raced too many times," said winning trainer Bruce Headley. "He's Kona Gold - one of a kind."
On the Kentucky Derby trail, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication was out at Santa Anita on New Year's Eve for his first workout since that Oct. 26 triumph. After watching the son of the late Seattle Slew work 3 furlongs in 36 3/5 under Dana Barnes, Baffert said the colt "went nice and easy." But that's about all Baffert said. "I have no idea where he going. The vaction's over," he said.
And on the Oaks trail, Atlantic Ocean, a huge, Baffert-trained daughter of Stormy Atlantic, surged past the pace-setters at the sixteenth pole to win Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita by ¾ length over Sea Jewel. Summer Wind Dancer was third in the 1 1/16-mile event, clocked in 1:43.25. Atlantic Ocean was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in October; Sea Jewel, fifth. "Two turns is what she really wants," said winning rider David Flores. "And I guess it doesn't matter if it's dirt or grass." Added Baffert, "There's more money on the dirt, so we're excited about it."
Calder Race Course
Nothing to Lose wove through traffic before winning Wednesday's $100,000 Tropical Park Derby by 1 ¾ lengths over Millennium Storm. Supah Blitz was third. Nothing to Lose, with Jerry Bailey up, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:50.45. "The biggest thing about today's race," said Mike Maker, assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, "is he is a 3-year-old who was able to go a mile and an eighth and win on Jan. 1. I'm sure there will be several options discussed for Gulfstream." Nothing to Lose is a son of Sky Classic.
In the first Oaks of the year, Sweettrickydancer gathered momentum turning for home after racing in mid-pack and went on to win Wednesday's $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks by ¾ length over Devil at the Wire. Askforaraise was third. Sweettrickydancer, a Kentucky-bred by Green Dancer, was clocked in 1:44. "If she is doing well," said winning trainer Rodolfo Garcia, "I would think you might see her next in the (Feb. 1) Herecomesthebride" at Gulfstream.
Only four 3-year-old fillies went to the post in Saturday's $75,000 Thelma Stakes and Lady Tak was clearly the best, winning off by 5 lengths. The Florida-bred daughter of Mutakddim, with Donnie Meche in the irons, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.16, improving her record to three wins in as many tries. Allspice finished second but was disqualified to third for intereference in the stretch. Buffalo Jump inherited second-place money and Spring Rush was placed third. "She's never really been challenged, either in the morning or on the track," trainer Steve Asmussen said if Lady Tak. "Next time we'll go a mile in the Tiffany Lass (on Super Bowl Sunday) and see what happens."
Sunday, Royal Spy set a measured pace through the early stages of the $75,000 Col E.R. Bradley Handicap, then repulsed a late bid by Dynameaux to win by 1 length. Freefourinternet was third and the favorite, Green Fee, checked in fifth. Royal Spy, a son of Peteski, ran the about 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.25. "I honestly have to give Robby (Albarado) all the credit," said winning trainer Tom Amoss. "He rode the horse perfect."
Lakenheath, a 5-year-old daughter of Colonial Affair, won Friday's $75,000 Truly Bound Handicap by ½ length over Bala. The Gene Cilio trainee, ridden by Robby Albarado, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.48. Cilio said Lakenheath has improved in the past two years through a willingness to stay closer to the leaders. "She's been more precocious in the early part of her races since she's turned 4," he said.
Grey Comet, making his first start against open company, led all the way to a 1-length victory in Saturday's $75,000 Count Fleet Stakes for 3-year-olds. Mustang Jock was second and Penobscot Bay was third, another 4 lengths back. Grey Comet, a son of Distinctive Pro, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.17. "Hope springs eternal," said winning trainer Gary Contessa. "He seems to rise to whatever level of competition you throw at him. We'll look to point him to the (Feb. 8) Whirlaway." That would be a stepping stone to the Wood Memorial and the Triple Crown.
Sunday, Lizzy Cool got out to an early lead in the $75,000 Ruthless Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and favorite Reign of Tara couldn't catch her. At the wire, the margin was ¾ length, with Xtra Heart another 4 ¾ lengths back in third. Lizzy Cool, a daughter of St. Ballado, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.92 under Charles Lopez. Winning trainer Bobby Barbara said dropping Lizzy Cool in for a tag in her last race gave her confidence and adding blinkers gave her focus. "She's a very fast filly and I knew she would improve after she won," he said.
On New Year's Day, Wilzada led all the way to a 5-length score over Blinded by Love in the $76,000 Interborough Handicap for fillies and mares. Wilzada, a 4-year-old Meadowlake filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.16 on a sloppy track. Trainer Tony Dutrow said he may consider the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel on Feb. 15.
Golden Gate Fields
I'madrifter drifted out to the early lead in the New Year's Day feature, the $75,000 Lafayette Handicap and kept drifting along until he'd won by 1 ½ lengths over Halo Cat, with Chinkapin third. I'madrifter, a 5-year-old Washington-bred, ran 1 mile in 1:33.98, giving jockey Kevin Krigger his first stakes victory. "It's a great way to start off a new year," Krigger said.
Sunday, Bob's Lady (no relation) won the $100,000 Work the Crowd Handicap for Cal-bred fillies and mares, coming from last in the field of five to win easily over favorite Brite Sunny Day. Bob's Lady, a 4-year-old daughter of Pirate's Bounty, ran 1 mile on a "good" track in 1:37.66. "She was wanting to run on the backstretch," said winning rider Russell Baze, "but I kept a hold of her. Boy, when I swung her out, it was all over."
Ladyecho took the lead on the stretch turn in Saturday's $60,000 Marshua Stakes and held off favorite Powers Prospect to win by 1 ¼ length. Powers Prospect stumbled at the start and got away last. Ladyecho, with Oliver Castillo up, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10 1/5. "I just kept her clear and she just took me," Castillo said.
Tampa Bay Downs
Smoke Chaser, coming off a long layoff, took a while to get going in Saturday's $50,000 Minaret Stakes. But once she got clear running on the outside, the 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken got to the front and held off Little Won by a head. Roman Romance was third. The 6 furlongs took 1:12.18. "She really didn't like the horses outside of her," said winning rider Joe Judice. "They went by and I was able to get her to the outside. She picked it up as soon as she got clear."
Champali launched a late bid inside the furlong pole and just caught pace-setting favorite Great Notion at the wire in Saturday's $50,000 Turfway Prevue Stakes for 3-year-olds. Mr. Whitestone was third in the field of just five starters. Champali, a Kentucky-bred son of Glitterman, ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:17.53 on a muddy track.
Devious Ways swung wide into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap and spurted clear to win by 3 ½ lengths over Waveband. Hava Peer was third. Devious Ways, a 4-year-old, Texas-bred daughter of Devious Course, finished the 5 ½ furlong-course in 1:02.88.
Sam Houston Race Park
Term Sheet drew off in the final furlong to win Saturday night's $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap by 3 lengths over Agrivating General. Padlock was third. Term Sheet, a 5-year-old, Texas-bred son of Concern, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.76.
Mighty Merlin worked a little magic in the final strides of Saturday night's $40,000 Triple Sec Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallying from last in a field of seven to win by a neck over Slam Bam. Amplitude was third. Mighty Merlin, a Louisiana-bred son of Zuppardo's Prince, got the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59 1/5 seconds.
Free Corona - always an attractive prospect - got clear in the late going to win Saturday's $35,000 Kokopelli Handicap by 4 ¼ lengths. Hangonslewpyhangon was home second but was disqualified to fourth, promoting Milk Wood and Eagleton to second and third, respectively. Free Corona is a 5-year-old, British Columbia-bred gelding by Free at Last. Kokopelli is a flute-playing Native American god.