Charismatic 7-year-old gelding Presious Passion already has back-to-back victories in Monmouth Park’s United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park and the W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder to his credit. On Feb. 28, he will attempt to add a repeat win in the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park to his sterling record.
Regular rider Elvis Trujillo will be aboard Patricia Generazio’s front-running Presious Passion for trainer Mary Hartmann, who has indicated the 1 3/8-mile test will serve as a tune-up for a planned start in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) at 12 furlongs on the grass Dubai World Cup Day March 27.
A Florida-bred by Royal Anthem, Presious Passion had a career-best season in 2009. The year included a wire-to-wire score in the Mac Diarmida early in his campaign, victories in the United Nations and Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita in October and ultimately, a gritty runner-up finish in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Nov. 7, beaten only a half-length by repeat winner Conduit.
A four-time winner at Gulfstream, Presious Passion won the 2008 edition of the Pan American Stakes (gr. IIIT) over the course and finished second in his bid for a repeat last March after the race was forced off the turf and run on a sloppy main track. In his lone start since the Breeders’ Cup, the chestnut finished fifth Dec. 26 in his bid for a third straight victory in the W.L. McKnight at Calder after being pressured through a very fast opening half-mile.
Presious Passion, who boasts a 13-7-2 mark and earnings of $2,576,293 in 43 races, drew post 4 in the eight-horse field and will carry top weight of 123 pounds.
The biggest challenge could come from Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s 5-year-old Winchester, most recently third in the W.L. McKnight, which was won by Cloudy's Knight with Presious Passion fifth.
Jockey Alan Garcia gets the call on Winchester for trainer Christophe Clement. The Virginia homebred by Theatrical raced in Ireland early in his career and won the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park as a 3-year-old by 7 1/4 lengths in his American debut. He has lost six races in a row since that score.
Winchester failed to win in four starts last year, but ran well to be runner-up in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park in September and lost a head decision to Cloudy’s Knight in the 12-furlong Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in October in his final start before the W.L. McKnight.
Another contender with graded stakes credentials in the field will be Gary and Mary West’s 5-year-old Expansion, making his first start since capturing the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) Nov. 7 at Aqueduct. The 11-furlong race, the same distance as the Mac Diarmida, featured multiple grade I winner Grand Couturier finishing second. Jockey Julien Leparoux rides the son of Maria's Mon for trainer Chad Brown.
Irish-bred Feels All Right, group I-placed at France's Saint Cloud in 2008, makes his American debut for trainer Patrick Biancone and HBO Stable. The 4-year-old Danehill Dancer colt won a stakes at Chantilly in April.
$150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 9, 5:14 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Sr. Henry (FL), K J Desormeaux, 117, K G McPeek
2. Winchester (VA), A Garcia, 117, C Clement
3. Gabriel's Hill (KY), J R Velazquez, 117, S Benzel
4. Presious Passion (FL), E Trujillo, 123, M Hartmann
5. Bearpath (KY), J Castellano, 117, I R Wilkes
6. Thou Swell (KY), C H Velasquez, 117, J A Jerkens
7. Feels All Right (IRE), C S Nakatani, 117, P L Biancone
8. Expansion (KY), J R Leparoux, 121, C C Brown
Main Track Only
9. Imawildandcrazyguy (FL), M R Cruz, 117, W A Kaplan
Blinkers Off: Thou Swell