Even-money favorite Munnings shrugged off a more than four-month layoff and showed his class by recording a one-length score in the $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) Feb. 13 in South Florida.
Earlier on the card in the $125,000 Hurricane Bertie (gr. III) (VIDEO) for fillies and mares, Zayat Stables’ Kays and Jays held off Alex Rankin’s Tar Heel Mom for her first graded stakes victory. The 4-year-old daughter of Macho Uno won the 6 1/2-furlong contest by a half-length in 1:16.30 under Jose Lezcano.
Making his 4-year-old debut for Todd Pletcher, Munnings, a son of Speightstown
, pressed the pace set by Biker Boy
, took over nearing the eighth-pole, and held off the late charges of Congressional Page
, who broke slowly but finished well to miss second by a nose. The chestnut colt was ridden to victory by Javier Castellano. The final time for seven furlongs on the fast track was 1:22.49.
“He broke well out of the gate and there wasn’t much speed in the race, so I just found my spot and let him get comfortable with the pace,” Castellano said. “We weren’t going fast and he was taking everything real easy, and I took it from there. When I asked him for his run, it was actually pretty amazing, because he just took off and found another gear. It was a great feeling.”
The splits set by Biker Boy were :23.25 for the opening quarter and :46.22 for a half mile.
Munnings established himself as one of the nation’s top 3-year-old sprinters a year ago, winning the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) and Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II), both seven-furlong sprints in New York. He also ran third to both champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy in the Vosburgh (gr. I) and to Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I).
A three-time graded stakes winner and five times grade I placed, Munnings has now earned $707,240 from 11 starts. Bred in Kentucky by Dan Tayloe and Glencrest Farm, he is out of the Holy Bull mare La Comete. He is owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.
“I was a little concerned that he might not be ready for his best as things didn’t go exactly as planned off the layoff, missing a prep in the Mr. Prospector (gr. III) when we scratched because of the wet track,” Pletcher said. “But he was good enough and classy enough to overcome it and win. We’ll consider the mile race here on March 13 (Gulfstream Park Handicap, gr. II) if he’s doing well and then maybe the Carter Handicap (April 3 at Aqueduct, gr. I) after that to get that elusive grade I win for him.”
Munnings paid $4, $3, and $2.40. The exacta (5-9) returned $45.60 and the trifecta (5-9-8) was $251.20.
Making her season debut in the Hurricane Bertie, Kays and Jays entered the race off a solid fifth-place effort in the Dec. 26 La Brea (gr. I) at Santa Anita when beaten less than three lengths by Evita Argentina. Prior to that, she won the Cascapedia Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion.
Making her first start at Gulfstream, Kays and Jays pressed a rapid pace for a half-mile set by Dr. Zic
, took over shortly after that, and repelled a challenge from Tar Heel Mom, who made her bid on the outside under Alan Garcia as they straightened away. Warbling finished another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.
Kays and Jays shipped in from California for trainer Mike Mitchell and won for the fifth time in 11 lifetime starts. She has now earned $308,830. The bay filly was bred in Kentucky by Milan Kosanovich and is out of the Dixieland Band mare Lovin Spoonful.
“She’s a good filly on the synthetic tracks, but maybe a little better on dirt,” Mitchell aid. “She ran very well at Calder last summer (second in the grade III Azalea Stakes). We saw this race on the schedule. It’s a graded race and at the right distance, so we shipped her and gave her to Wesley Ward to look after. She’ll stay there now and run for Wesley in the future.”
Sent off as the slight favorite in a field of nine, Kays and Jays paid $7.40, $4.20, and $3.20. The exacta (4-10) returned $44.60 and the trifecta (4-10-5) was $125.40.