Sabin Handicap (gr. III) winner Lady Marlboro looks to make it two stakes wins in a row in the Hurricane Bertie Handicap (gr. III) Feb. 17.

Sabin Handicap (gr. III) winner Lady Marlboro looks to make it two stakes wins in a row in the Hurricane Bertie Handicap (gr. III) Feb. 17.

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Two Tough Foes Battle in 'Bertie'

Lady Marlboro and Sugar Swirl are proven winners in the Feb. 17 Hurricane Bertie.

Lady Marlboro, a dead-heat winner in the Jan. 6 Sabin Handicap (gr. III), and Sugar Swirl, entering off a pair of stakes scores, are the most formidable in a field of eight that will contest the $150,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap (gr. III) Feb. 17 at Gulfstream Park.

The seven-furlong Hurricane Bertie, which is open to older fillies and mares, also includes local hotshot Cher Ami, who captured five Florida stakes in 2007.

Susan and John Moore’s Lady Marlboro was winless in six consecutive starts after breaking her maiden in February of last year, but has been on fire of late. A nose defeat in the Nov. 23 Top Flight Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct is the only thing separating the 4-year-old Smoke Glacken filly from being undefeated in her last three starts.

Although the Hurricane Bertie will be a turn back in distance from the one-mile Sabin, Lady Marlboro is proven at seven furlongs, evidenced by her five-length score in the Oct. 12 Life’s Magic, where she came from off the pace to pull away in the stretch.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Lady Marlboro is 3-3-3 from 11 lifetime starts and seems to be in fine form.

“She seems to be thriving while she’s not training that hard,” Jerkens said. “When you’re pushing to go longer races, you tend to train them harder; but with a shorter race, we’re more about keeping her steady and staying at the status quo. She seems to be thriving without the really hard work.

“It concerns me a little because it doesn’t look like there’s a ton of speed in (here). The choices were go a mile-and-an-eighth, but she didn’t have much luck when she did that before, and it didn’t seem to be what she really liked. She seems to be more comfortable in the one-turn races, so we’ll give this a go.”

Out of the Doc’s Leader mare Lady Doc, Lady Marlboro was bred in Kentucky by Hopewell Investments. She draws post four and Eibar Coa will be in the irons.

Stronach Stables’ homebred Sugar Swirl has also been on a roll of late, finishing on the board in her last eight starts. The 5-year-old Touch Gold mare has not tried more than six furlongs since May, but seemed to have plenty left in her last two starts, a three-length score in the Nov. 4 Very Subtle at Churchill Downs and a 2 ½-length victory in the Jan. 13 First Lady Handicap (gr. III) on the slop at Gulfstream.

Sugar Swirl’s entire 17-race career has been remarkably consistent, having taken money in all but three starts, with earnings of more than $530,000. Trained by Brian Lynch, who took over this winter from Bobby Frankel, she is a four-time stakes winner with a pair of wins on the Gulfstream dirt. Javier Castellano gets the return call.

Early speed could come from Wirth Brothers’ homebred Cher Ami, who despite weakening to finish seventh in the Jan. 26 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint on the Santa Anita Cushion Track, has been terrific for trainer Larry Bates, winning seven times in 13 lifetime efforts.

Cher Ami, a 4-year-old Lost Soldier filly, has gone gate-to-wire in each of her stakes wins, all of them coming at Calder Race Course. Regular rider Ariel Smith will be aboard.

Also to consider is Linda May, a group II winner in Argentina, who will be making her American debut for trainer Marty Wolfson.

$150,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 4:42 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Linda May (ARG), 115, Eddie Castro
2. Cher Ami (FL), 118, Ariel Smith
3. Bereba (FL), 115, Manoel R. Cruz
4. Lady Marlboro (KY), 119, Eibar Coa
5. Sugar Swirl (ON), 121, Javier Castellano
6. Silver Knockers (MD), 116, John R. Velazquez
7. V. I. P. Princess (KY),  115, Cornelio H. Velasquez
8. Change Up (KY), 118, Kent J. Desormeaux