The turf might not have been as firm as he likes it, but front-running Presious Passion had little trouble handling it while seemingly toying with his six rivals in the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 28.
His 1 1/4-length win over Winchester in the 1 3/8-mile race sets Presious Passion up nicely for a trip to Dubai for the $5 million Sheema Classic (UAE-I) March 27. Trainer Mary Hartmann said she wanted to see a strong effort from her 7-year-old multiple grade I winner before making the decision. The Sheema Classic at 1 1/2 miles will be run on World Cup Day at the new Meydan Racecourse.
“We were concerned earlier in the day that the course might be less than firm, but after discussing it, we decided to go ahead and run, and that it would be better looking ahead to Dubai to have a race than not, although we planned to go anyhow and train him up to that race if necessary," Hartmann said. "He only had the one workout since his last race, but as they get older they don’t need to do as much. It’s become his pattern. We’re ready to go now if everything goes all right.”
Presious Passion is expected to leave for Dubai with the rest of the Gulfstream-based contingent March 16.
Owned by Patricia Generazio, Presious Passion added the Mac Diarmida to the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) and the W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) as races he has won twice. The Royal Anthem gelding won last year's Mac Diarmida in a gritty effort by a half-length.
As he usually does, the favorite Presious Passion broke on top for regular rider Elvis Trujillo and soon opened a commanding seven-length lead while clicking off an easy half-mile in :47.46. He led by five lengths after six furlongs in 1:13.11 and was still in front by four after completing the mile in 1:37.61.
Gabriel's Hill, chasing in second for John Velazquez, and Winchester, closing in from third with Alan Garcia aboard, narrowed the gap on the final turn. But Presious Passion was never seriously threatened, holding the grade I winner Winchester at bay while somewhat extended in the final furlong. His measured victory came in a time of 2:13.49 on a course labeled "good" after heavy rain an evening earlier.
“Everything went very nice today," Trujillo said. "The horse broke sharp and was very relaxed, and that was very good for the horse. Every time he goes right to the lead, and you just hope things go easy. Then at the three-eighths, you put him in the bit, and he just goes on. (The turf) was perfect today. There were no problems.”
Garcia said Winchester ran well in defeat.
"I thought the winner (Presious Passion) might get pressed a little harder," he said, "and the course was actually a little firm.”
It was two lengths to Feels All Right. The French-raced colt, making his first United States start for Patrick Biancone, rallied from last to land the third spot for Corey Nakatani.
Presious Passion was making his first start since fading to fifth as the 4-5 favorite while attempting a three-peat in the W.L. McKnight Dec. 26 at Calder Race Course. The chestnut has won five of 11 races on the Gulfstream Park turf. He will long be remembered for his stirring effort against Conduit in last fall's $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita, a race in which he fell short by a half-length.
Bred in Florida by Joseph and Helen Barbazon, Presious Passion earned his 14th lifetime win in 44 starts while bumping his earnings to $2,666,293. Presious Passion is out of the Marquetry mare Princesa's Passion.
The winning purse was worth $90,000.
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, Presious Passion conceded his rivals from two six pounds while paying $5.20, $3.20, and $2.60 as the 8-5 choice. Winchester, still in search of his first victory since taking the Secretariat (gr. IT) in his American debut in August 2008, returned $3 and $2.40 while completing a $13.80 exacta. The Irish-bred Feels All Right, group I-placed at Saint-Cloud as a 2-year-old in 2008, was $3.40 to show.
It was two lengths to Bearpath in fourth, followed by Expansion, Gabriel's Hill, and Thou Swell. Sr. Henry scratched and Imawildandcrazyguy was entered for the main track only.