Sent off at 12-1 in a wide-open field of 11, Little Mike broke sharply from the outside and never looked back, going wire-to-wire to win a thrilling edition of the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Jan. 9 on the Gulfstream Park turf.
Making his graded-stakes debut under Joe Bravo, Little Mike had to hold off a late charge from 11-1 Blues Street, who came from off the pace with Kent Desormeaux aboard and pulled even with the leader in deep stretch. But Little Mike got the photo by a nose in a head-bobbing finish to win for the fifth time in 10 lifetime starts.
Smart Bid was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third under Edgar Prado. The final time for 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf was 1:40.52.
Little Mike, a 4-year-old son of Spanish Steps trained by Allen Iwinski, was able to hold on despite setting legitimate fractions. The bay gelding was sent through splits of :23.08, :46.79, and 1:10.35 before opening up a 3 1/2-length lead at the top of the stretch. Bim Bam, Get Stormy, and Smart Bid were the closest to the pacesetter until turning for home.
Smart Bid, Baletti, and Souper Spectacular, who finished fourth, all gave chase in the stretch but it was Blues Street who took dead aim on Little Mike before falling just short.
Little Mike won four of seven starts last year including his maiden-breaker at Monmouth Park in August when making his turf debut for Iwinski. He was runner-up in the Monarch’s Maze Stakes at Aqueduct in November in his only stakes try of the season.
The Florida-bred won an allowance race going 7 1/2 furlongs Dec. 11 at Calder Casino & Race Course while coming from off the pace in his last start.
"We put him on the turf because his brother, Little Nick, is a multiple stakes winner on the turf," Iwinski said. "Last time we ran him the purse was a little cheaper and there was a lot of speed so we thought we’d find out if this horse would respond to coming from off the pace.
"I think the horse has been moving right along, and we talked about how he is improving with every race. He’s a light-framed horse who doesn’t carry a lot of weight and he’s really just starting to carry a little more weight. I don’t expect we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet. There were five horses in this race that ran in grade Is. I certainly believe this horse is capable of running against anybody on the turf.”
The winner was bred by Carlo E. Vaccarezza and races in the name of Priscilla Vaccarezza and KZ Stables. He is out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude. He has now earned $149,970.
Little Mike paid $27.80, $9.80, and $6.80. The exacta (11-5) returned $241 and the trifecta (11-5-6) was worth $1,210.60 for $1.
The 2-1 favorite, Battle of Hastings, was in contention in upper stretch but had to be steadied after unsuccessfully attempting to split Smart Bid and Blues Street. Jockey Julien Leparoux lodged an objection after the race against both horses, but it was disallowed and Battle of Hastings settled for sixth, just behind Baletti.