Jacks or Better Farm and Robert LaPenta's hearty Jackson Bend, a two-time grade I winner with earnings of $1.8 million who shows no signs of slowing down, heads a field of 11 as part of a one-two punch for trainer Stanley Gold in the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint (gr. III) Feb. 8 at Gulfstream Park.
The Florida-bred 7-year-old, who recently finished a good second behind Lea in the one-mile Hal's Hope (gr. III), joins 5-year-old stablemate Fort Loudon, the 2013 winner of this race who looks to rebound from a disappointing finish in the Jan. 18 Sunshine Millions Sprint.
Jackson Bend, by Hear No Evil, was 3 1/4 lengths back of Lea in the Hal's Hope Jan. 11. Lea and Hal's Hope third-place finisher Neck 'n Neck both have bigger fish to fry Feb. 9, contesting the Donn Handicap (gr. I) against champion Will Take Charge. Meanwhile, Jackson Bend, winner of the 2011 Forego (gr. I) and 2012 Carter Handicap (gr. I) and remarkably still running after suffering a serious training injury at Saratoga Race Course, will cut back to the seven-furlong distance he's won at many times before (read the full story of Jackson Bend's recovery).
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gets the mount on the old pro from post 2 as part of an impost of 117 pounds, while Edgard Zayas will be in the irons aboard Awesome of Course runner Fort Loudon as he carries the same from the 8 hole.
The Gulfstream Park Sprint has attracted a strong collection of performers, including Mr. Prospector Stakes (gr. III) winner Singanothersong, who figures into the equation off two back-to-back scores at Gulfstream. Trainer Ron Pellegrini entered the son of Songandaprayer for his 2014 debut in hopes of the same success that saw him press quick early fractions before drawing off with authority in a Nov. 17 allowance race and in the Mr. Prospector, both at six furlongs.
"I was assistant trainer for John Tammaro for quite a while and John used to tell me, 'If you can get a horse with speed to rate, you've got a very dangerous animal,'" Pellegrini said. "That's what we've tried to do with him, and we might have a dangerous animal."
In the allowance race, the 4-year-old gray colt pressed a half-mile run in :44 before scoring by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:08.61. In the Mr. Prospector, he pressed a half in :44.75 over a good racetrack on his way to a 1 3/4-length score in 1:09.92, with Fort Loudon finishing 1 3/4 lengths behind.
"He's very relaxed. We've spent a lot of time with him to get him relaxed," Pellegrini said. "Before, he was hyper and nervous and ran as fast as he could as far as he could."
Singanothersong showed speed and promise last season at Gulfstream Park, where he won one of four starts, including a second-place finish in the Swale (gr. II). He went to the sidelines in April for arthroscopic surgery to remove a chip from a knee and returned from a six-month layoff with a close second-place finish in an October allowance.
"We took a chip out of the upper joint of his knee and he's thrived ever since," said Pellegrini, who awarded the return mount on Singanothersong to Juan Leyva from post 10. Singanothersong carries 119.
Two others in this race put in good Breeders' Cup efforts at Santa Anita Park. Laugh Track was second in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), while Brujo de Olleros finished third in the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
Laugh Track, trained by Mark Casse, was well back in 11th place in a field of 12 before making a five-wide move on the turn and surging in the stretch to fall a neck short of catching Secret Circle in the six-furlong Sprint.
"I wish it was seven-eighths (of a mile), like Saturday's race," quipped Casse, whose Kentucky-bred will be ridden by Joel Rosario from the rail carrying 117 pounds.
Laugh Track is unraced since finishing a troubled ninth in the Nov. 30 Cigar Mile (gr. I), in which he bobbled at the start and subsequently was bumped.
"We wanted to get started somewhere and we thought going seven-eighths was a good place to start," Casse said. "We thought about sending him to the General George in Maryland, but we might as well start at home."
Laugh Track has shown the ability to stretch out around two turns, but the 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor has become a graded stakes performer since being turned back to one-turn races. Laugh Track captured the Vigil Stakes (Can-III) at Woodbine at seven furlongs in June.
"His best races really have been sprinting. He's actually very versatile. He can do anything," Casse said. "His race in the Breeders' Cup tells you how really good of a sprinter he is."
While he has won at 1 1/16 miles on the front end in the past, Laugh Track has shown himself to be a closer in sprints.
"Hopefully, we get some pace to run at," Casse said.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Catron will concede experience to his opponents, having only run twice in his life. However, the 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt is not lacking the raw ability to match strides with the veteran performers. After breaking his maiden at first asking by three lengths at Belmont Park last June, Catron returned from a six-month layoff to crush entry-level allowance rivals by 4 1/2 lengths in hand at Gulfstream Dec. 22.
Falling Sky, a grade III stakes winner who finished second in a recent Gulfstream allowance; and Reveron, the 2012 Gulfstream Derby winner and Florida Derby (gr. I) runner-up, are also scheduled for the 39th running of the Gulfstream Sprint. Purple Egg, Narvaez and Silver Menace round out the field.
Ribo Bobo, who has won 11 of his last 12 races, was not entered. The 6-year-old gelding has been spectacular while winning both of his starts at the current Gulfstream meeting. He scored a dominating victory in the $110,000 Claiming Crown Express in hand Dec. 7 before capturing the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint in 1:09 Jan. 18.
"It's just too close," trainer Jason Servis said of the decision to hold Ribo Bobo back.
Ribo Bobo would likely have been favored had Servis opted to run in the Gulfstream Sprint on the strength of his near flawless performance since being claimed for $6,250 at Gulfstream March 8.
"He's doing great," Servis said. "There's a race at Gulfstream on March 29 ($100,000 Sir Shackleton). That's the race I'm looking at."