After two less than successful trips in the 3-year-old series at Oaklawn Park, Gem Stables’ J P's Gusto will now team with the meet’s leading rider Cliff Berry in the final leg—the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) on April 16.
The two got reacquainted March 31 with a bullet five-furlong breeze in :58 3/5 over the fast track for trainer Joe Petalino. J P’s Gusto galloped out in 1:12 2/5, which was the fastest six-furlong time of the morning as well. Berry had also worked him prior to the Rebel, but the mount was given to Ramon Dominguez for that race. Dominguez is expected to ride Brethren in the Arkansas Derby.
“That’s what I was looking for,” said Petalino. “I was hoping the horse would be closer to the front in his last race. Hopefully this time we can get that trip.”
Petalino was referring to the Successful Appeal ridgling’s seventh-place finish in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) March 19 when Dominguez opted to rate J P’s Gusto off the pace set by free-wheeling front-runner and eventual winner The Factor .
“He came in here and scared everybody saying ‘don’t go with me,’” said Petalino, referring to The Factor’s trainer, Bob Baffert, whose record-setting colt was making his first attempt around two turns after some fast sprint performances. “I was actually hoping to run with him. As fast as the track was playing that day, I was looking forward to it.”
Signs continue to point to a rematch in the headline event of the season, as The Factor remains likely to return for the Arkansas Derby, although Baffert has yet to commit his star to the 1 1/8-mile contest.
Also on the work tab for the Arakansas Derby was California colt Sway Away, who breezed five furlongs on Thursday morning. Under jockey Luis Quinonez, the 3-year-old son of Afleet Alex broke off for his workout seconds before J P’s Gusto. Sway Away charged to the wire in :59 3/5 and didn’t appear to let up in the gallop out, although clockers did not get an official time for the final furlong.
“It was just a maintenance work, but Luis said he didn’t have to put any pressure on the horse,” said trainer Jeff Bonde by phone from Santa Anita Park in California. “Luis said he just sort of let the horse do it on his own and my guy said the gallop out was like :12 and 2.”