Hot off his win in the Mac Diarmida (gr. IIT) one month ago, Presious Passion is back to defend his title in the $150,000 Pan American Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream Park grass course March 21.
Patricia Generazio’s sneaky fast 6-year-old is one of three horses weighted at 122 pounds for the Pan American, which Presious Passion won in gate-to-wire fashion at odds of 20-1 last year. Seven turf specialists are entered in the 1 1/2-mile event.
In another determined front-running effort Feb. 21, the Royal Anthem gelding won the 11-furlong Mac Diarmada by a half-length over Pan American entrant Quasicobra. The favorite in the race, Spice Route, finished third and will also run in the Pan American. As he did in last year's Pan American, Presious Passion opened a huge lead on the backstretch in the Mac Diarmida and fought off his challengers in the final furlong.
After winning last year's Pan American, Presious Passion went on to claim the rich United Nations (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park in July. Except for a couple of hiccups in New York on yielding tracks late last year, he has maintained top form. He entered the 2009 season off a two-length win in Calder's W.L. McKnght Handicap (gr. IIT) in mid-December, then ran second to Soldier's Dancer in the Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 24 at a distance of nine furlongs, which is shorter than he likes.
Trainer Mary Hartmann notes that Presious Passion has caught six off-tracks since his win in last year's Pan American, including the Sunshine Millions at Santa Anita.
“As soon as I entered, it started to pour here,” joked Hartmann from her Gulfstream Park barn after entering her stable star in the Pan American March 18. Despite Hallandale Beach's first significant rainfall in four months, Hartmann says Presious Passion is still ready to go.
“We’re still on target,” said Hartmann. “I think the weather will clear up, and with it as dry as it has been, and with the way this course drains so well, things will be fine. Plus, he can handle it if it’s a little yielding. The only thing he can’t handle is if it’s a total bog.”
The Florida-bred chestnut loves the 12-furlong distance, where he has captured three of five starts. He's also tough at Gulfstream, winning four of 10 races. He owns a career mark of 10-5-2 in 36 starts with earnings of $1,242,018. Elvis Trujillo retains the mount.
Sharing top weight with Presious Passion is the Great Britain-bred Spice Route and Argentina-bred South Handyman.
Winner of the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder in December, Spice Route spotted Presious Passion more than 20 lengths in the Mac Diarmada before launching his bid on the final turn. Spice Route was forced to check but rallied strongly through the lane to wind up beaten 1 1/2 lengths as the 2-1 choice.
Woodbine-based James McAleney, who guided Spice Route to placings in the Canadian International (gr. IT) and Sky Classic (gr. IIT) last fall for trainer Roger Attfield, is reunited with the 5-year-old gelding. Spice Route is a winner of four of 18 lifetime starts and $595,947.
South Handyman, a grade I winner in Venezuela Dec. 7, faded to seventh after leading in his U.S. debut at one mile three weeks ago. Joe Bravo takes over aboard the 5-year-old son of Southern Halo who is trained by Jose Garoffalo.
Quasicobra was edged after a strong late bid in the Mac Diarmida, which was his first start in three months for trainer Dale Romans. Alan Garcia takes over aboard the 5-year-old Wild Rush gelding.
Stronach Stables' Sligovitz was beaten by just 1 1/2 lengths when fifth to Kip Deville in the nine-furlong Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) Feb. 1, his most recent start for trainer Brian Lynch. The Ontario-bred 4-year-old ran second in Woodbine's restricted Breeders' Stakes last summer in his only prior start at 1 1/2 miles.
Buddy's Humor, a minor stakes winner on grass last year at Aqueduct and Monmouth, comes in off a runner-up finish to Twilight Meteor after the setting the pace in the one-mile Canadian Turf (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Feb. 28. The French-bred Nergal steps up after a fourth-place tune-up in an optional claiming race at nine furlongs on the same program.
$150,000 Pan American Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Sligovitz (ON), 114, John R. Velazquez
2. Spice Route (GB), 122, James McAleney
3. South Handyman (ARG), 122, Joe Bravo
4. Quasicobra (KY), 118, Alan Garcia
5. Presious Passion (FL), 122, Elvis Trujillo
6. Buddy's Humor (KY), 120, Jose Lezcano
7. Nergal (FR), 120, Rene R. Douglas