James P. Calderazzo's very experienced Gemma's Star and Bruce Tallisman's lightly-raced Bernard's Candy appear to be the horses to beat among eight 3-year-olds entered in Saturday's $50,000 Needles Stakes at Calder Race Course.
The Needles was scheduled for turf at 1 1/16 miles but the race will be run on the main track at the same distance because of very heavy rain this week in the Miami area.
Jockey Manny Aguilar gets the return call on Gemma's Star for trainer David Brownlee, who has done an excellent job bringing the End Sweep colt back to the races this summer off of a seven-month layoff.
Gemma's Star ran a remarkable 22 times as a 2-year-old for trainer Angelo Camillo, Jr., occasionally showing promise. The $14,000 OBS March 2-year-old finished fifth in the Tropical Park Derby (G3) here on New Year's Day, his 23rd start, and didn't reappear again until July 27 in the care of Brownlee.
He showed some speed before tiring in a 7½-furlong turf allowance, obviously needing a race. The trainer turned him back to a six-furlong sprint and he won easily by six lengths. Brownlee stretched him out again for the Blazing Sword on Aug. 24 and he scored impressively by 2½ lengths.
While Gemma's Star has run 26 times, Bernard's Candy has had only three outings for trainer Kate Francy-St. Leon, winning his last two races very impressively. Jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr. will be aboard.
Bernard's Candy is an Ohio homebred son of Candy Stripes and finished second in his career debut on July 4 behind highly-regarded Friendly Frolic. He scored by 4 ½ and 3 ¼ lengths in his next two starts, posting impressive times sprinting. The big question for the promising prospect Saturday will be the distance.
Completing the field for the Needles are Rey-Wan Racing's Class of Seventy, Julio Garcia; James Castro's Modest Lover, Abel Castellano. Jr.; Prag Racing's Russian Hand, Jeremy Beasley; Phil Combest's Suave King, Eduardo Nunez; Adam and Al Ross' Susie's Poker, Manoel Cruz; and Nelson Jones' Bog Hunter, Carlos Gonzalez.
Susie's Poker is a contender after finishing second last out in the Blazing Sword to Gemma's Star. The son of Migrating Moon is trained by Ralph Ziadie and dueled with that rival down the stretch until giving way in the final sixteenth.
Suave King comes off of an impressive 4 ¾-length turf allowance score on Aug. 17 for veteran horseman Reed Combest. Claimed for $16,000 early this year at Gulfstream, the son of Suave Prospect appears to be better on turf but is in top form.
Modest Lover pressed the pace through most of the Blazing Sword before tiring to fifth at the finish. Trained by Steve Standridge, the son of Afternoon Deelites was a $45,000 claim at Gulfstream and had won his two previous starts before the Blazing Sword.
Bog Hunter appears to be rounding into form in recent races for trainer Debbie Thacker, finishing third in an overnight sprint stakes last out. The Hunting Hard gelding invaded Calder from Ocala last summer for a three-length victory in the Affirmed division of the Florida Stallion Stakes but finished last of 14 in the In Reality division, his only career start around two turns.