For the second time during the meet, Little Mike went gate to wire to win a graded stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf, turning back a solid field in the $150,000 Canadian turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) Feb. 27 (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old homebred, trained by Dale Romans for Priscilla Vaccarezza, defeated the rallying Society's Chairman by 1 1/2 lengths while completing the one-mile distance in a superb time of 1:32.37 on firm ground.Yankee Fourtune, the 5-2 favorite in the field of 10 older horses, finished third.
Breaking from post 7 for jockey Joe Bravo, Little Mike cleared the field and got to the inside early on the first turn and proceeded to reel off lively splits while leading Twilight Meteor and Nicanor. Fractions were :22.70 for the opening quarter mile, :45.42 for the half, and 1:08.65 after six furlongs.
Despite the fast pace, Little Mike inched away from the field rounding the final turn and took a clear advantage into the lane. Bravo gave a quick look over his shoulder and urged the son of Spanish Steps onward. They led by 2 1/2 lengths midstretch and held the oncoming Society's Chairman, ridden by Jose Lezcano, safe to the wire.
Bravo said he was unconcerned by the fast fractions and rode Little Mike with confidence.
“As long as he’s happy and flipping his ears around, how fast he’s going doesn’t really matter," he said. "Time only matters when you’re in jail.”
Society's Chairman, ninth after steadying early along the inside, steadily advanced through the field, rallying four wide on the turn to challenge. But he could not get to the determined winner while finishing 2 3/4 lengths in front of Yankee Fourtune, whose five-race turf winning streak came to an end with Victor Santiago aboard.
Romans took over training Little Mike at the current meet after the bay gelding started the season with a nose victory in the 1 1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIIT) for trainer Allen Iwinski Jan. 9. In his first start for Romans, Little Mike set the pace but failed to last the full nine furlongs while finishing sixth, beaten by 2 1/2 lengths, in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) Feb. 5.
“I thought they we’re going awfully fast early, but the field was bunched, so they were all going pretty fast," Romans said. "Then, when he opened up at the top of the stretch, I knew he would go on. We’ll discuss options, maybe Keeneland. There are a lot of good races at a mile, but I think he’ll go farther if we ask him.”
Bred in Florida by Carlos E. Vaccarezza, Little Mike is out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude. After losing the first four starts of his career on dirt, Little Mike was moved to the turf and has won six of eight races since. He boosted his earnings to $305,970 with the winning share of $90,000.
Little Mike, who carried co-high weight of 121 pounds, paid $12.80, $5.80 and $4.20 as the third choice of the public. Society's Chairman, in his first start since being unplaced in the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 6 for Canadian-based trainer Roger Attfield, returned $4.20 and $3 and rounded out a $79 exacta. Yankee's Fourtune, a two-time grade III winner last year who was also making his first start since last November, was $3.20 to show.