Improving Tackleberry keeps firing big efforts. It’s no wonder his connections keep running him in big races.
The 4-year-old gelded son of Montbrook returns just two weeks after pulling a 27-1 upset in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic to face seven foes in the $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (gr. II) on Feb. 12. One of the horses Tackleberry will take on is Soaring Empire, who defeated him in the Jan. 8 Hal’s Hope (gr. III).
Owned and trained by Luis Olivares, Tackleberry has won five of his last six starts dating back to a first-level allowance score at Calder in October. He has won at six furlongs, a mile, and 1 1/8 miles during his run, including the Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) and Sunshine Millions Classic which were both at 1 1/8 miles.
Tackleberry finished fourth in the Hal’s Hope, beaten 2 1/4 lengths during a race where he failed to show his usual speed after bobbling at the start. Morning Line and Rule, who came back to finish second and third, respectively, in the grade I Donn Handicap, finished just ahead of him that day. Regular rider Javier Santiago will again have the mount, and they will break from post 7 in the seven-furlong contest.
Bred in Florida by Ocala Stud, Tackleberry is out of the Concerto mare Box of Joy. He is 6-2-0 from 10 starts with earnings of $487,225.
Soaring Empire grabbed his first graded stakes win in the Hal’s Hope, sitting just off the pace before taking over in the stretch and winning by 1 1/4 lengths for Cam Gambolati. Last season as a 3-year-old Soaring Empire won twice in six starts including the Rutgers Stakes at Monmouth Park. The son of Empire Maker is owned by Rick Pitino’s Ol Memorial Stable and C. E. Glasscock. Jose Lezcano will be aboard again as he cuts back in distance. They will break from the rail.
“He’s worked well and trained great,” said Gambolati. “The Donn is a very prestigious race, but we felt now was not the time to stretch out to two turns again.”
Trainer Marty Wolfson will send out a pair including 121-pound high weight Coffee Boy, winner of the $200,000 Carry Back Stakes (gr. II) last summer at Calder. The lightly raced 4-year-old won that six-furlong sprint by a length for his third win in five lifetime starts. He has not been out since the July 10 race in which he defeated multiple grade II winner D’Funnybone.
In March of last year Coffee Boy broke his maiden by more than eight lengths at Gulfstream. John Velazquez was aboard that day, and he will be again on Saturday.
Wolfson’s other entry is Gaucho, a two-time allowance winner who will make his season and stakes debut. The 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper, a $475,000 yearling purchase, will likely be part of the early pace under Luis Saez.
Also likely to take some money is Mad for Smarty, who romped by 6 1/2 lengths in an optional claimer at Calder in December for Allen Jerkens.
$150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (gr. II, Race 10, 5:25 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Soaring Empire (KY), J Lezcano, 119, C M Gambolati
2. Gaucho (KY), L Saez, 117, M D Wolfson
3. Coffee Boy (FL), J R Velazquez, 121, M D Wolfson
4. Mannington (FL), E Trujillo, 117, T M Pompay
5. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J Castellano, 117, D Chaparro
6. Mad for Smarty (KY), P Lopez, 117, H A Jerkens
7. Tackleberry (FL), J Santiago, 119, L Olivares
8. Guam Typhoon (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, I R Wilkes