Bandini and John Velazquez easily win the Skip Away Handicap.

Bandini and John Velazquez easily win the Skip Away Handicap.

Equi-Photo/Matt Dean

Bandini Barely Sweats in Skip Away Win

Bandini quickly took the lead and never looked back to win the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap (gr. III) comfortably as the 2-5 favorite at Gulfstream Park Saturday.

John Velazquez, who teamed with trainer Todd Pletcher for their fifth win on the Florida Derby program, gave Bandini a vigorous hand ride in the lane to win by 1 1/4 lengths over a willing We Can Seek, who went off at 37-1.

Owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, the 4-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus  has won both of his starts in 2006, his first races since being injured in a 19th-place finish in the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

Last year's six-length winner of the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) won the 1 1/8-mile Skip Away in 1:49, paying $2.80, $2.60, and $2.10.

Bandini, carrying high weight of 117 pounds, set so-so fractions of :24 2/5, :48 1/5 and 1:11 3/5. He opened up by more than three lengths in the stretch and was never in serious danger as he won for the fifth time in eight tries. He has won four of five at Gulfstream. The $60,000 winning share pushed his earnings to $646,380.

The Chilean-bred We Can Seek, forwardly placed throughout by Rafael Bejarano, returned $14.40 and $2.60. It was five lengths back to the show horse, 30-1 Brazilian O'Connell's, who closed while wide for Manoel Cruz, paying $2.40.

Noble Causeway was far off the pace and was forced into a wide move on the far turn under Jeremy Rose. He struggled home fourth, followed by Network, Zoffinger, Contante, and Whos Crying Now.

Earlier on the card, 10-1 shot Little Thunder, ridden by Clinton Potts, spurted away from the field at the head of the stretch and won the $100,000 Artax Handicap by five lengths.

Dale Capuano trains the Florida-bred 4-year-old son of Sword Dance for Ryan Haynes, who claimed Little Thunder for $16,000 at Laurel Park in October. Little Thunder improved to 6-5-1 in 14 lifetime starts with earnings of $153,586.

Little Thunder paid $23.20, $11.20, and $4.60. Nightmare Affair, ridden by Eddie Castro, returned $10.80 and $4. It was 3 3/4 lengths back to the 13-10 favorite, Gygistar, who was $2.60 to show under high weight of 117 pounds.

(Chart, Equibase)