The front-running son of Spanish Steps opened up a big advantage for jockey Joe Bravo in the stretch and held on for a one-length victory over Riviera Cocktail, who rallied for second by a neck over Asphalt. The 11-10 choice tripped the wire for the one-mile event on firm turf in an impressive 1:32.87.
Little Mike, a 4-year-old Florida homebred owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, is two-for-three since moving to the Dale Romans barn. Little Mike captured the one-mile Canadian Turf Stakes (gr. III) in front-running fashion in his most recent start Feb. 27 when he was timed in 1:32.37.
He began the meet with trainer Allen Iwinski, dictating the pace en route to victory the 1 1/16-mile Fort Lauderdale Stakes (gr. III) by a nose Jan. 9 at odds of 12-1.
Bravo gunned Little Mike to the front from the rail post and he took control over Nicanor and Commandeered in the short run to the first turn. The 123-pound high weight comfortably led the field all the way around while posting moderate fractions of :23.05, :46.07, and 1:09.05.
Successful Mission and Cherokee Artist took up the chase on the final turn but could not threaten Little Mike, who drifted out at the top of the stretch but kept his momentum. Little Mike opened up a three-length advantage in the lane and was in command in spite of tiring in the late stages with Asphalt and the late-closing Riviera Cocktail closing in.
“Little Mike just makes anyone who sits on his back look good," Bravo said. "I don’t think they let him go in the first quarter-mile. He’s just so fast out of the gate that it discourages any of the other horses from going with him. He’s the man.”
Riviera Cocktail, ridden by Garrett Gomez, trailed the eight-horse field to mid-stretch but finished with a flourish to get up for second over Asphalt and Javier Castellano. Mikoshi was 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth, followed by Successful Mission, Cherokee Artist, Nicanor, and Commandeered.
All that kept Little Mike from a perfect Gulfstream meet was a sixth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 5, when he led to deep stretch before caving in. The bay gelding earned his seventh win in 13 lifetime starts in the Appleton and has now banked $365,970.
“I’ve never seen him get tired," Romans said. "Even though he didn’t win the 1 1/8-mile race (Gulfstream Turf Handicap), he only got beat two lengths and that was a grade I. He has been just super. He came to me in great condition. It’s pretty special for him to win three graded stakes at the meet.
"We debated running him in this race or the Keeneland race (Maker’s Mark on Apr. 15), but decided to stay here. We think he deserves another chance at a mile-and-an-eighth in the (grade I) Woodford Reserve (May 7 at Churchill Downs), and the timing is better from this race to that one.”
Little Mike is out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude.
The winner paid $4.20, $3.20, and $2.60. Riviera Cocktail, in his first start for Kiaran McLaughlin after transferring from Neil Drysdale in Southern California, returned $8.20 and $5.20 in a much-improved effort. Asphalt paid $4.40 to show.
“I’m very pleased that he ran second," McLaughlin said. "We would have liked a little more pace early, but he ran great and hope he continues to improve."