For a pure handicapping puzzle, it would be hard to beat Sunday's $100,000 Sabin Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, which drew a field of 10 extremely well-matched fillies and mares.
The 1 1/16- mile event has a little of everything – graded stakes winners making their 2004 debuts, a budding rivalry within the race, horses who love the course, and others just coming into their best form.
The big mares coming back after time off are A. Stevens Miles Jr.'s Lead Story, who is starting high weight at 119 pounds, and Joseph V. Shields Jr.'s Passing Shot, who carries 117.
The rivals in the race-within-the-race are J D Farms' Secret Request, 114, and Dogwood Stable's Smok'n Frolic, 117, who finished one-two in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream last month.
Very few horses love the Gulfstream track more than Nonsuch Bay, 115, who has won four of seven starts here, and has never been worse than third.
Joseph Allen's Roar Emotion, 116, came out smoking in her 4-year-old debut on Jan. 15 and looks ready to regain the form that carried her to graded stakes victories as a 2-year-old and 3-year-old.
The early line reflects the wide-open betting status of the event, with Smok'n Frolic the 3-1 choice, Passing Shot at 4-1, Lead Story at 5-1, and Roar Emotion at 6-1.
The others entered are G. Watts Humphrey Jr,'s Final Round, 114; Gilbert Campbell's Ivanavinalot, 111; Waring Racing's Grab Bag, 111, and Martin Cherry's Pampered Princess, 115. It would be no major surprise if any of them found the winner's circle, either.
Lead Story, trained by Carl Nafzger, finished her 2003 campaign with victories in the Falls City Handicap and Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap (both gr. II) last November. The daughter of Editor's Note will need a strong pace to run at since she's a dedicated closer. Calvin Borel will be in from Oaklawn Park to take the mount.
Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens trains Passing Shot, who won the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga last summer. The A.P. Indy mare has not started since running last in the Beldame (gr. I) at Belmont on Oct. 4. She has been training very sharply at Gulfstream for her return, and Jerkens has named Jose Santos again.
Secret Request provided the shock of Sunshine Millions day on Jan. 24 when she rallied from far back to take the Distaff with a $150.40 win mutuel. A big stretch run is her game, and trainer David Brownlee has named Eibar Coa to guide the filly again.
Smok'n Frolic got taken out of her game at the start of the Sunshine Millions Distaff and uncoiled a huge stretch effort to gain second money. Todd Pletcher trains the Smoke Glacken mare, who does her best running from just off the pace. Jerry Bailey takes the mount for the first time Sunday.
Nonsuch Bay has six lifetime wins, and four of them have come at Gulfstream Park, two in stakes races. The 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley, trained by Frank Alexander, warmed up for the Sabin by running second, beaten a head by Pampered Princess, in an allowance race on Jan. 28. Cornelio Velasquez rides for the first time.$100,000 Sabin Handicap (gr. III), fillies & mares 3 & up, 1 1/16 mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Smok'n Frolic (FL), 117, Jerry D. Bailey
2. Passing Shot (KY), 117, Jose A. Santos
3. Nonsuch Bay (KY), 115, Cornelio H. Velasquez
4. Final Round (KY), 114, Pat Day
5. Ivanavinalot (FL), 111, Dante Scocca
6. Roar Emotion (KY), 116, John R. Velazquez
7. Secret Request (FL), 114, Eibar Coa
8. Grab Bag (NY), 111, Jorge F. Chavez
9. Lead Story (KY, 119, Calvin H. Borel
10. Pampered Princess (KY), 115, Edgar S. Prado