Gulfstream Park and its management have taken a lot of heat this year for small fields, loud concerts, and poor quality racing, but one positive thing has been the track itself. The usually hard and unforgiving surface that has historically yielded lightning-fast times has been slowed noticeably. "Speed is not always the greatest thing," said the track's longtime caretaker Dennis Testa. And with that deep surface made even cuppier by rain on the afternoon of Feb. 2, a pair of 3-year-olds named Showmeitall and Monthir battled gamely down the stretch in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) through a final furlong, though timed in an ugly-looking :14.18, that was every bit as thrilling as if it had been two-ticks faster. Despite a sundial-like final time of 1:26.07 that was the slowest edition in the race's 49-year history by more than a second, there were divergent opinions on which colt had scored the head bob victory. "I thought I was a winner," said Mark Hennig, Monthir's trainer, who wasn't. "Pat (Day, Monthir's jockey) said he didn't think the photo was right. But that's been the horse's trouble. He gets to the lead and doesn't finish the job." Instead, the winner was Showmeitall. A gelded son of All Gone, Showmeitall was first purchased as a yearling for $6,000 and then failed to meet a $15,000 reserve when auctioned as a juvenile. In winning his first stakes, Showmeitall surprised trainer Manny Tortora, who admitted to thinking he was beaten at the wire. "He waits on horses when he makes the lead too quick," he said, explaining he expected a stalking trip similar to the one he got when second in last month's Spectacular Bid Stakes (gr. III). That strategy disintegrated by a draw of the rail and a sharp break that put Showmeitall in the thick of an early pace tussle with Royal Lad. The two battled through solid opening fractions of :22.54 and :45.61. Monthir, meanwhile, was comfortable in fourth, about four lengths from the front while Spectacular Bid winner and 6-5 favorite Maybry's Boy lagged far behind. Day urged Monthir rounding the turn, and the Shadwell Stable runner surged to the front in the four-path turning for home, with Showmeitall glued to the rail holding courageously as Royal Lad proved unable to keep pace. Maybry's Boy, meanwhile, had put in his move commencing inside the three-eighths pole that would bring him to within three lengths of the front, but he would get no closer. "The track was so deep he had to overwork just to get there," said his jockey John Velazquez. The final furlong was a two-horse free-for-all, with neither runner wishing to separate himself from the other. But when the result was posted, the eight-person partnership called Take Five Stables -- they anticipated being only five -- had won its first stakes. "I rode this race in my head 500 times and I didn't get much sleep last night," smiled managing partner Mike Kopp, a 35-year-old Floridian who put together the syndicate during a Christmas Eve party in 1996. Kopp and partners have since had a handful of horses in training in New York with trainer John De Stefano. They purchased Showmeitall from Lynne Martin for $13,500. Entered at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age sale last June, they took him back when the hammer hit at only $14,500. "We figured $15,000 would pay a lot of training bills," Kopp recalled of the reserve. The horse was then sent to South Florida and to Tortora. The gelding quickly proved to be as swift as he looked, capturing a maiden race by eight lengths in his debut and finishing in the top two in six of his first seven starts. The lone exception was when he set exceptionally fast fractions then faded to sixth in Churchill Downs' one-mile Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) last November. Tortora doesn't view that finish as indicative of the gelding's ability to stretch out. "I'm not worried about more distance," the trainer said, noting Showmeitall's win at a mile in a Calder allowance race last fall. "I don't know where we'll go next, though he's nominated to just about everything." Pass Coverage
Appropriately, on the following afternoon's Super Bowl card, former Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Billy Cesare saddled Cellars Shiraz to victory in the 1 1/16-mile Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-old fillies. But Cesare, still rankled from coverage of his recently concluded 60-day suspension for allegedly threatening a stable hand with a firearm, was not talking. "Go talk to him," Cesare pointed at Robert Walker, who breeds and races as Bitterroot Racing Stable. "He'll tell you how he trained this horse to win." Walker, a retired airplane executive, instead, told of claiming the mare Cellar's Best 13 years ago and watching her become a stakes-placed winner of $112,800. Her sixth foal was to the cover of Kissin Kris, and became Walker's first stakes winner in nearly two decades of racing. Cellars Shiraz won her first stakes by stalking the flank of favorite and pacesetter August Storm and overtaking that rival down the stretch for a 1 1/4-length win over the moistened but "good" turf. "I stayed close because I didn't want that other one to get away from us," said winning rider Cornelio Velasquez. "This filly will go farther." Though he would not speak of Cellars Shiraz, a stakes winner in just her third attempt on turf, Cesare did have one parting comment that proved equally prescient. "I like New England tonight," he said. Gulfstream Notes
Jockey Jorge Chavez' win in the Hutcheson was one of four on the afternoon and six for the weekend, moving the three-time defending leading rider to within four of the top spot, shared by John Velazquez and Pat Day...Cozy Island, who proved her mettle on the grass last time out by running third in the Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT), had no trouble with the dirt, toying with an allowance field on Feb. 2 for an 8 1/2-length win. Akiko Gothard trains the 4-year-old daughter of Cozzene for Marylou Whitney, whose stable scored three times on the Hutcheson undercard...As a result of what the stewards termed "rough riding" in the Jan. 26 Fort Lauderdale Handicap (gr. IIIT, The Blood-Horse of Feb. 2, page 682), jockey Eibar Coa was suspended for 30 days. Though his days were scheduled to commence on Jan. 31, the jockey appealed, and the case will be heard on Feb. 6.