Little Mike, a three-time graded stakes winner on the Gulfstream Park turf earlier this year, returned to his favorite course after 8 1/2 months on the sidelines to win an allowance/optional claiming race by a nose.
Sent off as the 9-10 favorite, Priscilla Vaccarezza’s front-running 4-year-old homebred gelding was all out to hold off Yankee Fourtune in the one-mile turf event at Gulfstream. Both carried 119 pounds.
Trainer Dale Romans indicated after the race that Little Mike would make his next start in either the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIIT) Jan. 14, a race he won last year, or the $300,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 28.
Jockey Joe Bravo, who was aboard for all three of Little Mike’s earlier victories this year, sent him to the front at the start of the $61,400 feature. They set fractions of :24.13, :47.90, and 1:10.76 on firm turf before opening a two-length advantage at mid-stretch. Little MIke was forced to bear down in the final furlong, however, as the stalking Yankee Fourtune, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, angled to the leader's outside and rallied.
In his first start since winning the Appleton Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream April 3, Little Mike barely prevailed in a time of 1:34.67 for his fourth win in five starts this year. Little Mike, who paid $3.80, also captured the Canadian Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream in February.
“It’s like sitting in a Ferrari, just sit back," Bravo said. "This is a special horse. I haven’t been on too many horses like this. He’s half human. He knows horses when they come to him, and he picks it up again. If they went around again, they weren’t going to get by him.
"For him to come off a layoff, and not quite be 100% and run a race like that, I can’t wait to see the rest of the year.”
A bay son of Spanish Steps out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude, Little Mike has now won eight of 14 career starts for earnings of $405,670.