Little Mike overcame the 11 post when taking the 1 1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale (gr. IIIT) Jan. 9 at Gulfstream, but will likely be an outsider again against Battle of Hastings, who finished a troubled sixth as the beaten favorite. Smart Bid, who was third in that race, also returns for another try.
Twilight Meteor’s narrow Topical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) victory at Calder Dec. 4 was his second consecutive graded stakes triumph, but he doesn’t figure to get the lead against the speedy Little Mike this time around.
Little Mike, now in the barn of Dale Romans, held off a charging Blues Street by a nose in the Ft. Lauderdale in his graded stakes debut. It was the fifth win in the last six starts for the 4-year-old Spanish Steps gelding, who has improved dramatically since switching to turf last summer. A Florida homebred of Carlo Vaccarezza, Little Mike won at 12-1 odds, setting brisk fractions before desperately hitting the wire first under Joe Bravo.
Bravo will be aboard again when Little Mike tries nine furlongs for the first time.
Battle of Hastings, the 120-pound high weight, had to be steadied badly at the top of the stretch after nearly clipping heels with Blue Street in the Ft. Lauderdale. He re-rallied under Julien Leparoux to get to within 1 1/2 lengths of the winner but had to settle for sixth after Leparoux’s objection was disallowed.
A four-time graded stakes winner and earner of more than $1.3 million for Mike House, English-bred Battle of Hastings will break from the outside post under Leparoux once again. The 5-year-old gelding by Royal Applause won the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs to end his 2010 season.
Peachtree Stable’s Twilight Meteor has won a pair of stakes over the Gulfstream course including the Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) last year. The 7-year-old Smart Strike horse is based at Calder with Marty Wolfson.
Christophe Clement trainee Sal The Barber, who broke his maiden on the Gulfstream turf in 2009, enters off a victory in the Three Coins Up Stakes at Aqueduct in November. He also figures to be near the pace under Cornelio Velasquez.
The Patrick Biancone-trained filly Justaroundmidnight is the wild card after coming off a victory in the Marshua’s River (gr. IIIT) on the same day as the Ft. Lauderdale. The 4-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Danehill Dancer has won two of three starts since shipping to the United States last summer.
Four-time graded stakes winner Get Stormy, a tiring eighth as the second choice in the Ft. Lauderdale, is also back. He has failed to hit the board in his last three starts after winning seven of eight prior to that.
$300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Get Stormy (KY), J Castellano, 119, T M Bush
2. Smart Bid (PA), E S Prado, 115, H G Motion
3. Justaroundmidnight (IRE), F Geroux, 112, P L Biancone
4. Sal the Barber (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, C Clement
5. Teaks North (FL), J Valdivia Jr. 114, J Sallusto
6. Little Mike (FL), J Bravo, 116, D L Romans
7. Twilight Meteor (ON), A O Solis, 117, M D Wolfson
8. Battle of Hastings (GB), J R Leparoux, 120, G Fox