Gulfstream Park Report: A Subtle Upset

Published in the Feb. 17 issue of The Blood-Horse,/i>
They are all far too diplomatic to mention it, of course. Both Bill Mott and Pat Day spent the better part of 20 minutes, after the Mott-saddled Subtle Power capitalized on a rail-skimming ride from Day to win the Feb. 10 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT), denying that there was any special satisfaction that came from defeating Jerry Bailey on even-money Ciro.

But then there came a moment, brief, fleeting, and lost on most of the crowd of 14,696, that belied their words. It was a simple glance between Mott and Bailey as the rider guided a Mott-trained horse onto the track for the next race, but it spoke volumes about the relationship of these men that has been forged through many battles. Bailey's teasing words to Mott were, "I didn't know you could talk that long." However, his eyes seemed to say, "You're the man."

"It's a business decision," deadpanned Mott about Bailey's decision to ride Ciro for trainer Christophe Clement. "They've got to ride the horse they think they need to ride. From Jerry's point of view, after Ciro beat King Cugat at Arlington last fall (in the grade IT Secretariat Stakes), you would have had to like him."

Clement certainly liked Ciro. Following the Secretariat victory in his American bow and a win in the Lawrence Realization Handicap (gr. IIIT), Clement sent Jayeff B Stables' homebred son of Woodman into the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) where he was beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Eclipse Award winner Kalanisi. "He has the potential to be the best horse I've trained," Clement had said.

Subtle Power had been in the Breeders' Cup Turf, too, but he was an afterthought, remaining near the back of the pack throughout and finishing 10th. The Thoroughbred Corp.'s son of Sadler's Wells had become a group II winner as a 3-year-old in last June's King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, but followed up on that with dull runs on both sides of the Atlantic in the Great Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-II) and Belmont's Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT). "He wasn't training well at all last fall," Mott recalled. "I had to convince the owners to run him in the Breeders' Cup."

Standing in the warm South Florida sunshine, that November day seemed far longer than three months ago.

"It took him some time to become Americanized," Mott said after the race. "He had to adapt to the tight turns and the style of running here. When they sent him to us, they thought he could be a graded stakes winner here, but those races last fall weren't exactly confidence builders."

So the two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer took the colt to his winter headquarters at Payson Park and began the process with slow breezes, education on left handed turns and, mostly, time for acclimation. Under Bailey's guidance, he hammered a conditioned allowance field here two weeks ago, giving the trainer the confidence to tackle this heady field.

If anybody understood the requirements to win this race, it was certainly Mott. He had stood in the winner's circle after the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in three out of the last four years, winning with favorites Lassigny in 1997, Yagli in 1999, and Royal Anthem last year. But, the trainer admitted, those were entirely different circumstances. Not only did he have Bailey aboard but, as he put it, "We were the ones in the spotlight those times."

Ciro shared the pre-race spotlight this day with the Irish-bred Manndar. The Beau Greely-trained, 2-1 second choice carried high expectations based both upon his two grade I wins last year and the presence of Gary Stevens, who was paying his first visit to Hallandale since winning the 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) with The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Anees.

Stevens began near the front of the 11-furlong event with Manndar in a stalking position behind the ambitious pacesetter Antitrust. Meanwhile, Day and Bailey bided their time jostling for position toward the rear of the pack. Subtle Power, according to his rider "didn't seem to be interested early, but began to get more enthusiastic down the backstretch." That was shortly after Day made an important move, beating Bailey to an inside spot rounding the second of three bends.

Manndar failed to sustain his bid because his hard early efforts "took all the run out of him," according to Stevens. So heading for home at slower than average fractions, Carlos Hernandez made a bold move aboard Stokosky and Bailey followed right behind on the eager Ciro. The duo did not take the turn well, crowding each other just enough to leave a gap on the hedge and giving Day the best seat in the house.

"(Stokosky) wheeled out a little and gave Jerry a scare," Day said. "I just came inside and hoped something would break. The opportunity on the rail opened up and I took advantage of it. But it's more than just finding space--you've got to have the horse to go along."

Subtle Power surged to the lead near the sixteenth pole and was all out to hold off a furious late rally by Whata Brainstorm by a neck. Stokosky was another head back in third, 1 3/4 lengths better than Ciro.

"No excuses," sang out Clement and Bailey in unison.

Day wasn't singing--he was hardly even smiling, in fact--but there was an extra measure of pride in the walk of the 47-year-old as he returned to the jockeys' room. The most he would admit is that "Jerry and Billy have been a hot item over the years." Still, he was able to recite a lofty record of four winners in five starters at this meet for Mott.

The trainer, meanwhile, feels he now has enough ammunition to convince The Thoroughbred Corp.'s racing manager Richard Mulhall to leave Subtle Power with him, noting that serious consideration was being given before the race to returning the 4-year-old to Europe for the summer.

"That was one of the reasons I think Jerry went to Ciro," Mott said. "He was looking for a horse to ride all year." He is now pointing to the Pan American Handicap (gr. IIT) with, no doubt, a return engagement from Day.

Continued. . . .

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