Grade I winner Emma's Encore gets her 4-year-old season started in the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, one of two sprint stakes on the special program for state-breds Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park.
In the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, Bahamian Squall , an easy winner of the Sunshine Stakes at Gulfstream Dec. 2, is part of a 12-horse field.
The Filly and Mare Sprint, which also attracted Gulfstream grade III winner R Holiday Mood among seven entrants, is race 5 on the program with a 2:37 p.m. EST probable post. The Sprint is the eighth race on the card and is set for a 4:05 p.m. post. Both races are contested at six furlongs.
Emma's Encore, a daughter of Congrats trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Allen Jerkens for owners Brenda Mercer and Peter Berglar, won both the Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park and the Prioress Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course in back-to-back efforts last summer. She last raced Oct. 6, finishing eighth of nine in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) on the Polytrack at Keeneland.
She has been working for her return at Gulfstream, where her most recent drill Jan. 13 produced a five-furlong clocking of :59.85, second fastest of 26 on the morning. Emma's Encore is to carry top weight of 121, giving each of her rivals four pounds. Junior Alvarado, who was aboard the dark bay filly for both of her summer victories, has the ride and they will break from post 5.
"She worked good on Sunday morning and has trained pretty much on schedule since we got here (in November)," said Jerkens. "We couldn't make the first one (the grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes Dec. 8), but I think she's ready now. We'll see where we go from there."
Paul Robsham's homebred R Holiday Mood has not been to the post since March 17, when she weakened to finish fourth in the Inside Information Stakes (gr. II) over seven furlongs at Gulfstream. Prior to that effort, the 5-year-old Trippi mare won the six-furlong Hurricane Bertie (gr. III) over the track for trainer Todd Pletcher. She has won five of nine lifetime starts.
R Holiday Mood has been training at Palm Meadows for Pletcher, and is coming off a half-mile breeze in :47.50 Jan. 13, third-best of 46. Regular rider John Velazquez will be aboard the bay. They drew post 3.
Farnsworth Stable's speedy Golden Mystery cuts back to six furlongs following a runner-up finish in Gulfstream's one-mile Ocala Stakes Dec. 30 for trainer Marty Wolfson. The 7-year-old Awesome Again mare opened up a five-length lead early but faded in the stretch to miss by a half-length as a 4-5 choice.
In the Sunshine Millions Sprint, Donald Dizney's homebred Bohemian Squall looks tough after his 3 1/2-length tally in the seven-furlong Sunshine State at 7-1 odds. David Fawkes trains the 4-year-old Gone West colt who has been first or second in each of his past five starts. Luis Saez is aboard the dark bay, breaking from post 8 as the 119-pound co-high weight.
"He couldn't be doing any better," said Fawkes. "We talked about maybe bringing him back in the Mr. Prospector (gr. III) after he won the Sunshine State so impressively, but decided to give him the extra time after running such a big race."
Bahamian Squall's 6-year-old half brother Apriority, by Grand Slam, lost a head decision when second to emerging champion sprinter Amazombie in the 2011 Sunshine Million Sprint at Gulfstream before a track record allowance score going 6 1/2 furlongs in his next start.
"I really think he'll be as good if not better than Apriority, but we decided to take the opportunity to keep him with the Florida-breds while we can," Fawkes said. "I'm pretty sure he'll do well in open graded stakes and there are plenty of opportunities for him to do that ahead."
Bahamian Squall has three wins and three seconds in eight starts and his Sunshine State victory was over Indiano, who came back to win the six-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes impressively Dec. 29.
The field also drew Harold Queen's multiple stakes winner Little Drama, who gave way in the Sunshine State after setting the pace as the even-money choice. Michael Mareina trains the 5-year-old Burning Roma gelding, to be ridden by Javier Castellano.
Two others in addition to Bohemian Squall are weighted at 119, Star Harbour and Bernie the Maestro.
The speedy Star Harbour, trained by Bill Mott for owner/breeder Peter Vegso, steps up off back-to-back wins against allowance optional claiming opponents in New York.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Bernie the Maestro captured the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit on opening day of the Gulfstream meet Dec. 1 for trainer Mike Maker. The 6-year-old Bernstein gelding has won four of his past five starts.
Shivananda Racing's Off the Jak nearly produced a 17-1 upset in the Mr. Prospector, getting caught late by Indiano after taking a narrow advantage in the stretch.
$150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint (race 5, 2:37 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Isn't She Grand (FL), P Lopez, 117, R R Rodriguez
2. Golden Mystery (FL), L Saez, 117, M D Wolfson
3. R Holiday Mood (FL), J R Velazquez, 117, T A Pletcher
4. Wild Bout Tiffany (FL), J Castellano, 117, W A Kaplan
5. Emma's Encore (FL), J Alvarado, 121, H A Jerkens
6. Becausei'mworthit (FL), A A Gallardo, 117, M R Thomas
7. Honey Chile (FL), J Sanchez, 117, W M Catalano
$150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint (Race 8, 4:05 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. County Gun (FL), E Trujillo, 117, T L Levy
2. Star Harbour (FL), J Alvarado, 119, W I Mott
3. Quiz Whiz (FL), D Centeno, 117, J Ness
4. Hello Prince (FL), J R Velazquez, 117, D Pita
5. Close It Out (FL), M R Cruz, 117, S Towne
6. Little Drama (FL), J Castellano, 117, M Mareina
7. Shock'emagain (FL), P Lopez, 117, D Fawkes
8. Bahamian Squall (FL), L Saez, 119, D Fawkes
9. Off the Jak (FL), J L Alvarez, 117, S Parbhoo
10. Black Diamond Cat (FL), J C Leyva, 117, L Bates
11. Cajun Breeze (FL), J M Rios, 117, M Yates
12. Bernie the Maestro (FL), J Rosario, 119, M J Maker