Edited from track notesAfter winning three races on opening day and running 1-2 in the Hal's Hope Handicap (gr. III) with Puzzlement and Bowman's Band, trainer Allen Jerkens will try for another big weekend when House Party heads to post in Sunday's six-furlong The First Lady Handicap (gr. III).A strong performance--especially late in the race--by the winner of last July's Prioress Stakes (gr. I) will likely send her into the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Ocala Breeders' Sales Distaff Jan. 24.Jerkens was keeping the bang-up weekend and future prospects in perspective."You can't expect to be as lucky as we were last weekend," said Jerkens. "It just doesn't work that way. Right now the filly is set to go and has been working pretty good."The major questions Jerkens wants answered about his emerging Sunshine Millions hopefuls concern race distances and shipping cross-country. For House Party, most of her success has come in sprints. The Distaff is here at 1 1/16 miles. Puzzlement is a Barretts/CTBA Sunshine Millions Classic contender, but this year that 1 1/8-mile race will be held at Santa Anita."If the filly runs well we'll look at stretching her out," said Jerkens. "It will depend on how she finishes in her race this weekend. For the other horse, I'm not too excited about shipping out there. We'll have to see what happens."Smokume Set to Light Spectacular Bid
Hobeau Farm's Smokume makes his 3-year-old debut Saturday in the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes (gr. III) for trainer Allen Jerkens.The winner of the Cowdin Stakes in October, and of 3-for-4 overall, is expected to be one of the top contenders in the six-furlong race marking the first step toward sophomore stardom."If he runs well, we'll try him in longer races," said Jerkens. "It's only a sprint, but the Hutcheson comes next and that's seven furlongs. We'll try and work him up to it. He's by Smoke Glacken and some of those can go a distance. We'll see. The main thing is that they all stay healthy."Zito launches 3-year-old assault with Ghost Mountain
Trainer Nick Zito has hit South Florida this year with barns full of top 3-year-old prospects and he'll begin to see which stars will emerge Saturday when Ghost Mountain heads to the post in the Spectacular Bid Stakes.It will be the first race for Ghost Mountain since finishing third to the highly regarded Tapit in the Laurel Futurity (gr. III) last November. It will also be the first 3-year-old stakes starter for Zito as he tests the qualifications of runners like Eurosilver, El Prado Rob, The Cliffs Edge and Eclipse Award-finalist Birdstone heading into the Florida Derby season."I've been lucky enough to be around a lot of great coaches and athletes," said Zito. "The great ones don't say what they've got. They say what they've done. This horse fits into the program and we'll see where we stand, but all of the success we've had with these 2-year-olds doesn't mean anything until we prove it out there."The Spectacular Bid is run at six furlongs and might not be considered an ideal place to launch Triple Crown aspirations, but Zito insists a strong effort by Ghost Mountain would bring him to the same level as his other top-notch barnmates."He has sprinted, but he has gone long already too," said Zito. "He's won at six furlongs, he's won at seven furlongs. But the mile and a sixteenth [Laurel Futurity] might have been a bit too far.Then again he ran into Tapit and that horse looked very strong. This is a good starting race for him. We'll see what we have, and then hopefully we'll try another one next week and another one the week after that. That's the program right now."Double Scoop Likely to Dance in First Lady
G. Watts Humphrey's Double Scoop will take on some of her toughest competition so far Sunday when she tries to extend her two-race win streak into the new year in the $100,000 First Lady.The daughter of Seeking the Gold won two straight optional-claiming races at Churchill Downs to end her 2003 season and has been working well for trainer Rusty Arnold here in Florida. Timing, distance and shipping concerns will likely mean the California-bred won't try either the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita or the $500,000 Ocala Breeders' Sales Distaff on January 24 at Gulfstream.The filly's maturity since the end of last year helped crystallize plans for Arnold."Three of her five or so bad races all seemed to come in routes," said Arnold. "The realization was that we shouldn't be sending her long and that she was becoming a very good sprinter. She matured a lot at the end of the year, and she finished off the board just once in all of her sprints so she's looking consistent."With two or three graded stakes winners likely for the six-furlong test, Double Scoop will get a break in the weights and tote 114 pounds. Most of that will be jockey Jerry Bailey, who was secured to replace an injured Pat Day."She's never faced the kind of grade I fillies that are in there," said Arnold, "but her times have been good and she's been working extremely well and seems to be coming up to the race excellent."Double Scoop breezed Tuesday morning from the Gulfstream starting gate, posting a :36 for three furlongs.Arnold also said he wouldn't completely close the door on either of the Sunshine Millions races Double Scoop was nominated to, but that much would depend on her performance in the First Lady.Fortunate Buy Still On Fence for Spectacular Bid/Millions
With only a few runners confirmed for Saturday's Spectacular Bid Stakes, trainer Norman Pointer is now keeping his options open regarding plans to send Fortunate Buy into either this weekend's sprint or the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash January 24 at Santa Anita."I know I won't go to both places," said Pointer. "If the Spectacular Bid comes up with just five or six horses, that's got to be where I go. If I'm going to dance, that's the place. There's a $150,000 difference, but with the smaller field, a little bit of $100,000 is better than nothing."Fortunate Buy broke his maiden at Calder last time out in his first effort since Pointer claimed the son of Fortunate Prospect for $50,000 Dec. 13.