It's a Bird, a romping six-length winner of the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) last month, leads a veteran field in the $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III), the headline event of a stakes-loaded program on Memorial Day at Grand Prairie, Texas.
The nine-horse field for the 1 1/16-mile main track test May 25 also includes the first three finishers of the Texas Mile (gr. III) -- Jonesboro, King Dan and Encaustic. The latter is one of three horses entered by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen. Southern California invader Magnum, a grade II winner earlier this year, and New Mexico challenger Song of Navarone, who is on four-race winning streak, help make for a formidable line-up of older horses.
Edmund Gann's It's a Bird invades from Calder Race Course in Florida for trainer Marty Wolfson, where the 6-year-old son of Birdonthewire has posted three bullet works since his dominating win at Oaklawn April 4. It's a Bird pressed the pace in the Oaklawn Handicap and overpowered his rivals to drive clear in the final furlong for an easy win.
"He's fresh and he's a good work horse anyway, but his last two works have been very sharp," noted Wolfson, whose charge is even-money on the morning line.
"He'll sit off the lead like he did at Oaklawn," Wolfson said. "He just likes to be close and doesn't have to be on the lead."
It's a Bird has won two of four starts this year, also capturing the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park by more than five lengths in late January. In between those scores, It's a Bird ran third in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) on a sloppy strip at Fair Grounds.
The 10-time winner of $1,172,885 in 29 starts is clearly at the top of his game. Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard It's a Bird for the past three starts, has the mount. It's a Bird breaks from post 7 in his Lone Star debut while carrying top weight of 121 pounds.
It's a Bird is one of two millionaires in the field, the other being Jonesboro, who was third in the Oaklawn Handicap. The 7-year-old son of Sefapiano out of Mom's Command bounced back with a half-length triumph over King Dan in the Texas Mile April 25. Trained by Randy Morse for owner Michael Langford, Jonesboro kicked home on the far outside to catch King Dan in the final strides for Cliff Berry, Lone Star's all-time leading rider.
Berry is back aboard Jonesboro, who comes into the fray with 13 wins in 38 starts and earnings of $1,123,575. They'll break from the far outside.
King Dan made a game stakes debut in the Texas Mile for trainer Dallas Keen, nearly pulling off the upset in spite of being caught wide on the first turn.
The 8-year-old Magnum didn't care for the bullring at Charles Town last time out, finishing sixth, 13 lengths behind the victorious Researcher in the Charles Town Classic April 18.
The Darrell Vienna-trained Argentina-bred gelding ran three strong races over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface prior to that. A month after his surprising third-place finish in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) in his comeback race in January, Magnum won the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) by one length over Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Well Armed. He then finished fifth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 7, just 2 1/4 lengths behind Einstein.
Magnum has earned $854,249 in a 28-race career that includes six victories.
Song of Navarone ventures out of New Mexico for trainer Henry Dominguez off four consecutive stakes scores. Most recently, the Kentucky-bred 5-year-old son of Sultry Song won the Sunland Park Handicap April 19. Song of Navarone has won eight of 11 lifetime starts and has been out of the money just once.
Also coming in hot is the Texas-bred Upstream, who has won three in row, including Lone Star's Premier Stakes on opening night April 9. This will be a significant jump for the 6-year-old trained by Allen Milligan.
Asmussen's trio is Encaustic, third in the Texas Mile last time but winless since 2007; Stungbythestorm, who won a couple of allowance races at Oaklawn this season and is coming off a fourth-place showing in a stakes at Delta Downs; and Z Fortune, without a win in eight tries since taking the Le Comte (gr. III) at Fair Grounds in January 2008.
$400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III, Race 10, 5:47 p.m), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight
1. Magnum (ARG), D R Flores, 119
2. Upstream (TX), M Escobar, 112
3. Encaustic (MD), E Martin, Jr., 115
4. Song of Navarone (KY), C Landeros, 118
5. Stungbythestorm (KY), L S Quinonez, 113
6. King Dan (KY), E A Tejera, 114
7. It's a Bird (FL), J R Leparoux, 121
8. Z Fortune (NY), R Albarado, 116
9. Jonesboro (KY), M C Berry, 118