Meridiana (7)wins the Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream.

Meridiana (7)wins the Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream.

AP/Equi-Photo, Bill Denver

Meridiana Sneaks Off with Orchid Handicap

German-bred Meridiana, a disappointment in the United States last year after winning the Italian Oaks (Ity-I) in May, took a big step forward with a front-running victory in the $200,000 Orchid Handicap (gr. IIT) Sunday at 12 furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf course.

Since transferring to Florida for the winter meeting, the 4-year-old Lomitas filly has turned things around for trainer Christope Clement.

Meridiana, who is owned by Jon and Sarah Kelly, tuned up by winning her last start, a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming grass race by three-quarters of a length March 5.

"I'm very lucky to have this filly," Clement said. "Mr. Kelly sent her to me at the end of the year and it took me a while to get her going. I don't know why. But it's nice when you get a nice and expensive filly and they turn out."

Jockey Edgar Prado guided Meridiana, who had shown little early speed in her earlier American starts, to the front along the hedge and she stayed there, winning under pressure by 1 1/4 lengths over Savedbythelight. Miss Hellie, a half-length farther back, rallied from last with a quarter-mile to go to finish third, edging Boana by a neck. The winning time was 2:26 4/5 on firm going.

Meridiana cut fractions of :25 3/5, :51, 1:15 1/5, 1:39 3/5 and 2:03 1/5. She opened up by two lengths in the stretch over the pace-stalking Savedbythelight, ridden by John Velazquez Jr., and was fully extended to hold on.

"It was pretty easy," Prado said. "There was no speed in the race. It was her first time going a mile and a half, but she's got a little bit of speed so we decided to use it and it worked out great."

Clement credited Prado with suggesting the front-running strategy.

Moscow Burning was a neck behind Boana in fifth, followed by Spice Island, Gal O Gal, Ocean Silk, Lost Appeal and San Dare.

Ocean Silk, the 5-2 favorite in the field of 10, stalked the leader under jockey Pat Day into the final turn and after making a brief bid, faded out of contention.

Hans Blume conditioned Meridiana when she won the Italian Oaks, her last race in Europe. She ran eighth in her U.S. debut in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park in July and was 10th against males in Saratoga's Sword Dancer Handicap (gr. IT) Aug. 9. In her first start for Clement, she finished 10th in the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct Nov. 15.

The $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. II) at 1 3/8 mile on the Belmont Park turf May 29 is likely her next race, Clement said.

Meridiana won for the sixth time in 12 career tries while increasing her earnings to $471,487.

The fourth choice, Meridiana paid $16.80, $8.20 and $6.60. Savedbythelight returned $12.20 and $9. Miss Hellie, who was ridden by Jose Santos, showed for $11.20. The $2 exacta was worth $169, the $1 trifecta $1,221.80.

Also Sunday, Minge Cove closed with a rush to win the $63,850 Via Borghese Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the grass. In a four-horse photo for second, Vous finished a nose in front of Soul of the Cat.

Ridden by Chris DeCarlo, Minge Cove ran 1 1/16th miles in 1:40 4/5 and paid $12, $6 and $4.60. Vous paid $4 and $3, while Soul of the Cat paid $6.20 to show.

(Chart, Equibase)