W. L. McKnight Handicap winner Presious Passion hopes to rebound in the Mac Diarmida after a disappointing ninth in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

W. L. McKnight Handicap winner Presious Passion hopes to rebound in the Mac Diarmida after a disappointing ninth in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

Jim Lisa

Old Turf Runners Gather in Mac Diarmida

Presious Passion, Silver Whistle, others go head-to-head March 16

It might not be a gathering of young runners, but the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap (gr. IIT) has attracted 12 solid turf horses to go 1 3/8 miles at Gulfstream Park March 16.

Among the recognizable names entered in the Mac Diarmida are Henry Lindh and Joe Pierce Jr.’s Silver Whistle, Patricia Generazio’s Presious Passion, and Paul Dixon, Dr. Gene Voss, and Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.’s Ascertian.

Presious Passion hopes to build on a third-place finish in Gulfstream’s Feb. 14 Shotintheheart Stakes. The 5-year-old Royal Anthem gelding, bred in Florida by Joseph and Helen Barbazon out of the Marquetry mare Princesa’s Passion, earned his last victory for trainer Mary Hartmann in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) Dec. 15, but then ran a disappointing ninth in the Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 26.

“He lost all chance at the start of the Sunshine Millions race, and I think he was too close too early last time,” Hartman said. “He was right on the leaders, and he just didn’t have enough punch to finish after that.”

Presious Passion won three of his 11 starts last year with two other seconds, and all of his big efforts came while he went off at long odds. Hartmann isn’t worried about the tote board, but she does see the gelding heading back toward a big effort as he breaks from post six under Jose Lezcano.

“He’s about due,” she said. “It seems like he’s coming up on his time in the cycle.”

Second to Presious Passion in the W. L. McKnight was Zabeel Racing International’s Stream of Gold. The 7-year-old Rainbow Quest gelding, bred in Ireland by Ballymacoll Stud Farm out of the Irish River mare River Dancer, was just 1 ¼-lengths behind the winner after being steadied at the seven-eighths pole under jockey Eddie Castro.

Stream of Gold has yet to win a graded stakes race, but was third in the Feb. 23 Gulfstream Park Turf (gr. IT) after making a six-wide bid and appears to be sitting on a solid effort. Although he hasn’t won a race since April of 2005, his recent performances have been dynamic enough to merit serious consideration.

Another horse worth serious consideration is the Bill Mott-trained Silver Whistle. By Alphabet Soup, the 6-year-old runner last won a Gulfstream allowance event going one mile Jan. 31. The late-closing move was typical for Silver Whistle, although he won the 2006 edition of the Pan American Handicap (gr. IIIT) after sitting just off the pace. His second-place effort in the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) came with a similar driving finish. Bred by Adena Springs out of the Polish Numbers mare Polish Polka, Silver Whistle made his last start in graded company in the Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in October of last year.

The youngest runner in the field and a horse still seeking graded stakes earnings is Lindh and  Pierce's 4-year-old French Vintage. The Florida homebred, a son of Mecke out of the Cormorant mare Grecian Flight, was fourth in the Shotintheheart after a fourth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Turf. His only attempt against graded company resulted in a sixth-place finish in the Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT), but the colt was beaten only 2 ½-lengths as he got into his best strides late in the 1 1/16-mile event. Winner of Monmouth Park’s Choice Stakes last July, he looks to improve with the added distance.

True Cause, Drilling for Oil, Ascertain, Croton Road, Big Prairie, Pleasant Strike, and Pellegrino complete the field. Dynatonia and Barastraight are also eligible.

$150,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap (gr. II, race 8, approximate post 4:42 p.m. EST), 1 1/8 miles for older horses, turf

PP, Horse, Age, Weight, Jockey
1. Silver Whistle, 6, 116, Kent Desormeaux
2. Croton Road, 5, 115, Eduardo Nunez
3. True Cause, 5, 116, John Velazquez
4. Drilling for Oil, 5, 115, Manoel Cruz
5. Ascertain, 7, 116, Rene Douglas
6. Presious Passion, 5, 117, Jose Lezcano
7. Big Prairie, 6, 116, Edgar Prado
8. French Vintage, 4, 115, Junior Alvarado
9. Stream of Gold, 7, 117, Eddie Castro
10. Pleasant Strike, 4, 116, Javier Castellano
11. Cougar Bay, 5, 116, Eibar Coa
12. Pellegrino, 9, 116, Cornelio Velasquez
AE. Dynantonia, 6, 115, Javier Castellano
AE. Barastraight, 5, 115, Joe Bravo