After Buffalo Man drew the far outside post for the Feb. 10 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), trainer Cam Gambolati scratched the colt from the Fair Grounds race and opted to send him instead to Ocala, Fla., where the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. (OBS) was conducting its annual day of racing.
It turned out to be a good decision.
A 3-year-old son of El Prado, Buffalo Man scored a 1 1/2-length win Monday in the $100,000 colt and gelding division of the OBS Championship Stakes. He grabbed the lead heading into the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile and then shook off a strong challenge from the 2006 Florida-bred champion 2-year-old male Green Vegas after drifting out and brushing that rival. Nearing the wire, No Reply slipped ahead of Green Vegas into second.
Buffalo Man's winning time was 1:44.40, which threatened the OBS track record of 1:44.20.
"Every time he felt a horse next to me, he showed another gear," said Buffalo Man's jockey, Edgar Prado. "That's a good sign, I guess. He has more room to improve, so that's good. He broke running out of there, and I was able to relax. He was just waiting for me to tell him what to do."
Buffalo Man scored his third consecutive victory in a string that began with the Storm Cat Stakes at the Meadowlands last November. In his last outing prior to the OBS Championship, he captured the Jan. 7 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park by a length while Green Vegas finished third.
Trained by Cam Gambolati, Buffalo Man is a Triple Crown nominee. The bay colt's owners are Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock, a lawyer. Ol Memorial's partners are University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan, former University of Kentucky basketball star Jamal Mashburn, and Pitino and Mashburn's business manager and business partner Rick Avare.
They all hope they're headed to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Gambolati would like to race Buffalo Man twice more before the first Saturday in May.
"The Fountain Youth Stakes (gr. II, March 3) is in mind, but then that means he's got to run back in 19 days or something," Gambolati said. "We'll see what happens. I've nominated him to everything. You've got to leave your options open."
All of Buffalo Man's races, so far, have been added-money events. The colt finished third in the Sapling Stakes (gr. III) and eighth in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) last year before scoring in the Storm Cat by 7 3/4 lengths. Even though he's won three in a row, Buffalo Man has been bothered by a chronic respiratory problem, according to his trainer.
"He's coughed on me on and off," Gambolati said. "It's like a never-ending battle. It's not serious; he has no fever; he looks like a million dollars, but he coughs. Maybe he's got allergies."
Whatever is the matter with Buffalo Man, it didn't keep him from finishing ahead of nine other 3-year-olds in the OBS Championship.
"The main thing is we really think he's a better two-turn horse than a sprinter, even though he's a decent sprinter," said Gambolati, who trained 1985 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Spend a Buck. "I haven't really honed on this horse because of his situation (with his respiratory problem), but he can go real fast if I want him to."
When Dinner Break notched a two-length victory in the $100,000 filly division of the OBS Championship Stakes, her owner, Alan Brodsky, was in a jewelry store shopping for a Valentine's Day present.
"He said his budget just went up," reported trainer Mark Hennig, after phoning Brodsky from the winner's circle with the good news and to ask how many win photos the owner wanted.
A 3-year-old daughter of Tale of the Cat , Dinner Break took command leaving the second turn of the 1 1/16-mile race and then survived a challenge from Synergy while scoring her first win since she broke her maiden in her career debut on grass last August in Saratoga. With jockey Eibar Coa aboard, she stopped the clock in 1:46.20. Maria's Kitty was second in the field of 11 fillies while Synergy faded, winding up three lengths farther back in third and only a nose in front of Sophisticatedevent.
Dinner Break came into the OBS Championship off of a runner-up finish in a mile allowance race on turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 12.
"I think she can run on either grass or dirt, but that (the OBS Championship) was her first time running two turns on the dirt, so we would sure like to try it again," Hennig said. "It was a nice race to win, but with the level of competition here, it will be a step up to anything graded. She'll have more opportunities on dirt. If you pick your spots going two turns on the dirt, you might find an easier spot like this again. She's a good, honest filly on either surface."
The OBS Championship was Dinner Break's sixth career outing.
Before the filly division of the OBS Championship, Suaveness and Wonder Time broke through the starting gate, and Skip Code did the same thing before the colt and gelding division. All three runners were reloaded and finished their races.
In Monday's other four races:
KZ Stable's front-running Jodi's Secret held off hard-charging Frosty Secret by a nose to capture the $50,000 colt and gelding division of the OBS Sprint Stakes. B. B. Mancini finished third. Trained by Luis Olivares and ridden by Eibar Coa, Jodi's Secret notched the first victory of his three-race career. Last December at Calder Race Course, the 3-year-old son of Salt Lakeran in a pair of 5 1/2-furlong maiden events, finishing third and then second. Jodi's Secret completed the OBS Sprint's six furlongs in 1:10.20.
Augustin Stable's Forever Together rolled past Taletobetold in the stretch to take the $50,000 filly division of the OBS Sprint Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths, covering six furlongs in 1:10.40. The third-place finisher, Lia's Luck, was three lengths behind Taletobetold, who had shaken off Miss Music Maker after a battle on the front. Ridden by Elvis Trujillo, Forever Together, a 3-year-old daughter of Belong to Me , was running in only her second career race. She had broken her maiden by 3 1/4 lengths in her career debut at six furlongs last November at Delaware Park. Jonathan Sheppard trains Forever Together.
The team of trainer Kirk Ziade and jockey Jose Lezcano won the $45,000 Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes for the second year in a row when Far West slipped away from Song Song Blue in the upper stretch and then pulled away for a 1 1/2-length score. Put Back Shu rallied past Song Song Blue to take second after trailing early because of a slow start. Ziade and Lezcano captured the race last year with Richard Averill's Kaufy Machine. Owned by Richard Siemens, Far West sprinted five furlongs in :57.60. The 4-year-old son of Way West improved his record to four wins in 10 career outings while scoring his first added-money victory.
Grade III winner Top Notch Lady galloped to a seven-length victory after rallying wide in the final turn of the $45,000 Florida Breeders' Distaff Stakes. The 4-year-old daughter of Sultry Song came into the race off of seventh-place finish in a 1 1/8-mile allowance event on Jan. 7 at Gulfsteam Park. Ridden by Julien Leparoux and trained by Mark Casse, Top Notch Lady covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.20. Her owners are Charles Nuckols III and Graeme Lang. Bred in Kentucky by Charles Nuckols Jr. and sons, Top Notch Lady scored in the 2005 Glorious Song Stakes at Woodbine and the 2006 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park.
The two divisions of both the OBS Sprint and the OBS Championship Stakes were restricted to horses offered at auctions conducted by OBS. The Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes was restricted to the offspring of stallions whose seasons were offered at the 2003 Florida Thoroughbred Charities auctions. The Florida Breeders' Distaff was a "registered Florida-breds preferred" event.