Tour of the Cat defeats Burning Roma in the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap. <br>

Tour of the Cat defeats Burning Roma in the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

Gulfstream Park Race Report: Cat-Like Quickness

Published in the March 15 issue of The Blood-Horse
The only thing the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap has in common with the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) is a few words in its name. But--get this--the top two finishers in the latter, Gulfstream Park's top sprint race of the season, prepped for the $200,000 seven-furlong race by running one-two at 1 1/16 miles on the grass in the race at Tampa Bay Downs.

Surprising? Not if you consider the way trainer Myra Mora obtained Tour of the Cat, who turned the tables on Burning Roma to win in the race sponsored for the first time by Nathan Fox, owner of Wafare Farm and stallion Richter Scale. Acting on behalf of Susan Gannon's Double G Stable, Mora claimed the horse for $25,000 from his initial start without even having seen him. So out of touch was Mora that she didn't even realize that the son of Tour d'Or had been gelded.

"It was a complete shot in the dark--getting a horse like this was pure luck," she said with a grin. "But I liked his bloodlines."

What Mora could not have known at the time was the now 5-year-old she and Gannon affectionately call "The Cat" had both an intensive competitive fire and an evil eye. Both were on display during the Richter Scale on March 8. "He kind of looks at the other horses out of the corner of his eye and says, 'Come on, let's go,' " Mora said after her first graded stakes win. "I knew he would run well when he did that today in the paddock."

Tour of the Cat gave that eye again to Burning Roma once the duo hooked up coming off the turn, the start of a protracted battle that was not decided until the wire. Burning Roma, expected to be a closer, instead chased Native Heir through an opening half-mile of :44.41 while "The Cat" stalked inside within three lengths of the lead. When Native Heir, the 3-5 favorite fresh off a track record-equaling performance in the Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III) faltered--"Seven furlongs is just too far for him," postulated trainer Mark Shuman--Burning Roma grabbed a narrow lead.

It didn't take long, though, before he was re-engaged: this time by Tour of the Cat, who snuck through on the inside. Ridden aggressively by Abad Cabassa Jr., his regular pilot in both the mornings and afternoons, Tour of the Cat dug in and hit the wire a head in front, timed in 1:21.15.

"I had never run him before at Gulfstream, but he seems to like it OK," Mora said, noting aching feet and an aversion to the Tampa Bay dirt were the impetus for his grass try last out. "But wherever I run him 'Cat' just loves to fight."

Political Agenda

Jockey Mark Guidry's contributions on at least three separate occasions led directly to the March 9 victory by Political Attack in the Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT). The latter two, during the 1:40.43 it took for the 4-year-old son of Hawk Attack to complete the 1 1/16 miles, were obvious; the first was not.

"After his last start, Mark suggested we open the blinkers a little more so he could see the horses coming at him," trainer Michael Matz said of the strategy change that paid off in a half-length victory over favorite Miesque's Approval. "That was the reason he kicked in down the stretch when the others were coming at him."

The stretch run, during which Guidry held Political Attack together despite a bevy of challenges both inside and outside, was a matter of strength. By contrast, Guidry's decision to take back off the headstrong Rakoon as the seven-horse field entered the first turn displayed intelligence and timing. "We finally got him to relax and he settled in nicely," the rider said of the run down the backstretch during which the colt sat second. "He then pulled me up there and gave me everything he had."

It was just enough for Matz, who saddled his first Gulfstream winner after sending out 27 other starters. It was also the first win for Political Attack since a score in the off-the-turf Tropical Park Derby (gr. III) on New Year's Day 2002 convinced his then-connections he might have a dirt future.

Four months later, Pennsylvanian Fitz Dixon Jr. bought him from breeder Brereton Jones. Five defeats followed, for both Matz and prior trainer John Fisher, before the Canadian Turf win. "I needed that, the way things were going," Matz said.

(Chart, Equibase)