John Oxley's Snow Dance, the top filly in trainer's John Ward's strong barn, will make her 2002 debut in Friday's $100,000 De La Rose Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Gulfstream Park.
The now 4-year-old Snow Dance came into her own when Ward switched her from the dirt to the turf last year at 3. She won five of her next six outings, including stakes scores in the Lake Placid Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga, the Pucker Up Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park, and the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) Stakes at Churchill Downs. Her lone defeat on the turf was a third-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland in October.
"I gave her a little bit of a breather after she won the Mrs. Revere in Kentucky," Ward said. "But, I've kept her in training at Palm Beach Downs. I like to stable her there because it is quieter there. She's a filly I try to keep running on a regular basis."
The De La Rose Handicap will be the first time Snow Dance will be meeting older fillies and mares in a stakes race and Ward is well aware of it.
"She beat older mares a couple of times in allowance races last year," he said. "This year she has to take on those tougher older grass mares that have won stakes and it'll be interesting to see how she fares. She's had three or four works at Palm Beach Downs but I don't think she's at the top of her game yet."
Craig Perret has ridden Snow Dance in her last three races but he's riding at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans this winter so Ward has enlisted the services of Pat Day. "He's an old veteran," Ward said. "He usually knows what to do in a race."
John Newsome's Veil of Avalon and Brushwood Stable's Bloomy make up the pair of Christophe Clement-trained nominees to Friday's De La Rose Handicap, but the former is the more probable.
Veil of Avalon, a daughter of Thunder Gulch, has been away from the races since last Nov. 26, when she came from far back to capture Calder's Solo Haina Handicap on turf by 1 1/2 lengths while less than fully extended.
The brief layoff should not be a problem for Veil of Avalon, who won an allowance race at Saratoga in late August last year after being away from the races since early June.
Clement also has two grass specialists nominated to Saturday's Ft. Lauderdale Handicap (gr. IIIT), but was still undecided early in the week. Lael Stable's Absaroka and Arthur I. Appleton's Broadway Snowman were both nominated to the 1 1/16-mile race.
Jaime S. Carrion's Wander Mom, who prompted the pace in the Honey Fox Handicap (gr. IIIT) here on the second day of the meet before tiring to finish sixth, will likely start in the De La Rose Handicap, according to trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
Although the local course was listed as firm for the Honey Fox, it was probably softer than normal, and consequently more tiring, due to inclement weather during the previous days.
In her start before the Honey Fox in the My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder Dec. 8, the daughter of Maria's Mon had gone an additional sixteenth of a mile and been bumped in the stretch run, but had not weakened until the final strides.