Grade I winner Presious Passion should get the firm ground he likes for his return to Gulfstream Park Feb. 21 in the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) following a narrow miss in the Sunshine Millions Turf last month.
The 1 3/8-mile distance should also suit the Florida-bred 6-year-old Royal Anthem gelding better than the nine-furlong trip did in the Sunshine Millions on a 'good' course at Santa Anita Jan. 24. Presious Passion, racing between horses in the $500,000 turf event, grabbed the lead in the stretch run but was caught in the final sixteenth by Soldier's Dancer and finished second by a half-length.
“They say it was harder on the backstretch and it was yielding on the front stretch,” trainer Mary Hartmann said of the conditions at the Arcadia track that day. “I think that’s what cost us the race. If it had been as hard in the stretch they never would have caught him, but the squish in the track got us again.”
Hartmann has been on the look-out for any sign of rain for parched South Florida this weekend, but weather forecasters say it is unlikely. There are 11 entered for the contentious Mac Diarmida if it stays on the lawn, with one horse, Phil the Power, signed on for the main track only.
“We’re very happy it’s dry," the trainer said. "It was frustrating to get to Santa Anita. It was perfect for three days and the course looked great, and then the day of the race it rains. I’m sick of getting a wet track.”
Elvis Trujillo, who rode Presious Passion to a two-length victory in the 1 1/2-mile W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder two starts back and made the trip to Santa Anita as well, has the return engagement. They'll break from the far outside post while carrying 122 pounds.
Patricia Generazio’s millionaire Presious Passion faded badly in last year's Mac Diarmida after opening an eight-length lead on the backstretch, finishing 11th of 12. That effort also followed a win in the W.L. McKnight at odds of 67-1. Presious Passion rebounded at Gulfstream to win the Pan American Handicap (gr. IIT) in front-running fashion last April. Two starts later the chestnut scored the biggest win of his career when he used similar tactics to register a neck victory over Strike a Deal in the $750,000 United Nations, managing to get the job done on a yielding Monmouth Park course at 14-1.
Presious Passion has a 9-5-2 record in 35 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,152,018, far outpacing his rivals.
While Presious Passion has enjoyed a fine career with his front-running ability, he may not have that luxury this time around. That's because of the presence of graded winner Finallymadeit, who comes off a game second-place effort by a half-length to Albertus Maximus in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) on Gulfstream's main track Jan. 31. Regular rider Eduardo Nunez will be aboard.
The big question for Finallymadeit, a 5-year-old son of Concerto, is whether he will handle the turf. The Javier Negrete trainee has started on grass just once in a 39-race career and that resulted in an off-the-board-finish. There's no questioning the chestnut's heart, however. He has 14 victories and earnings of $811,265.
Always First ships in from Maryland for trainer Tom Voss and will have Rene Douglas aboard for his 2009 debut while breaking from post 6. In his last start the 8-year-old gelding finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Presious Passion in the Dec. 13 McKnight.
The English-bred son of Barathea has the credentials in turf stakes going long with victories in Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in October and the Stars and Stripes (gr. IIT) at Arlington last July -- both at 12 furlongs -- among his best performances. Always First owns a career mark of 7-3-4 in 23 starts with earnings of $599,482.
A second English-bred in the field is the 5-year-old Spice Route, winner of the 1 1/8-mile Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder Dec. 6 by a nose over Soldier's Dancer. The gelding is trained by Roger Attfield and will be ridden for the first time by Edgar Prado.
Spice Route began 2008 in Great Britain and turned in several strong efforts on the Woodbine lawn after his transfer last spring, including a runner-up finish to Marsh Side in the 12-furlong Canadian International (Can-I) at 38-1 on Oct. 4.
Quasicobra, a son of Wild Rush trained by Dale Romans, makes his first start since completing the 2008 campaign with allowance victories at Belmont Park at 1 1/4 miles in September and Churchill Downs over 1 1/2 miles on Nov. 20. Julien Leparoux rides.
Mr. Sidney, a lightly-raced 5-year-old trained by Bill Mott, comes into the race the right way after winning a one-mile allowance on the Gulfstream lawn Jan. 24. Owned by Circle E Racing, Mr. Sidney is by Storm Cat out of Tomisue's Delight and has won three of six starts. Kent Desormeaux retains the mount.
Completing the field are Charles White and Felisha Ray’s Silver Mountain; Hare Forest Farm’s Summer Patriot; Dogwood Stable’s Slambino; Lewis Pell and Michael Eigner’s Imawildandcrazyguy; and Robert Gerczak’s Baltimore Bob.
$150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 9, 5:14 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Finallymadeit (FL), 120, Eduardo O. Nunez
2. Silver Mountain (KY), 116, Pascacio Lopez
3.Spice Route (GB), 120, Edgar S. Prado
4. Summer Patriot (KY), 120, Eibar Coa
5. Quasicobra (KY), 118, Julien R. Leparoux
6.Always First (GB), 122, Rene R. Douglas
7. Slambino (KY), 116, Cornelio H. Velasquez
8. Imawildandcrazyguy (FL), 120, Manoel R. Cruz
9. Baltimore Bob (MD), 118, Jose Lezcano
10. Mr. Sidney (KY), 118, Kent J. Desormeaux
11. *Phil the Power (KY), 120, Eibar Coa
12. Presious Passion (FL), 122, Elvis Trujillo
(*) entered for the main track only.