A refreshed Wrangler hopes to regain the stakes-winning form he displayed last February in Thursday's $100,000 Gravesend Handicap (gr. III) over six furlongs at Aqueduct.The morning after Wrangler won his first graded stakes race in last February's General George Handicap, the colt's trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, got a call from his dad, Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens."He told me when a horse acted up the way Wrangler did before a race, there's a good chance the horse is about to go the other way," the younger Jerkens said. "He was right."Wrangler wound up tanking in three subsequent starts following the General George, beating only two horses combined in a four-month span. Turned out in late June, he was sent to owner Frank Stronach's Adena Springs Farm in Florida.
Now, it's time for Wrangler to get serious again. Multiple Choice, Crossing Point and Sassy Hound are the 118-pound highweights in the 44th Gravesend. Wrangler, who won the Paumonok over Aqueduct's inner track last January, carries 116 pounds under jockey Javier Castellano. The Gravesend will be Wrangler's first start in more than six months.
A colt by Carson City, Wrangler returned to Jerkens' Belmont Park operation approximately five weeks ago and has recorded three published workouts over Belmont Park's training track in preparation for the Gravesend.
"The guys down on the farm did a good job at straightening his head out," Jerkens said. "He seems like a different horse this time. He's a lot more enthusiastic about his training now. I think he's fit enough to win."
Jerkens has chalked up Wrangler's dramatic form reversal to a fourth-place finish in March's Toboggan Handicap. Apparently, Wrangler nearly collapsed in the testing barn following his sound defeat as the 4-5 favorite.
"He bled pretty badly in that race," Jerkens said. "We gave him some time off after it, but I guess it took more out of him than I had originally thought."
Jerkens also entered Peter Blum's Multiple Choice, the runaway winner of the Sport Page (gr. III) eight weeks ago, but said there's a good chance he'll scratch the colt.
"I'm kind of toying with the idea of stretching him out on the inner track," Jerkens said. "He's a better horse than he was last winter, but I don't think he cared for sprinting on the inner."
Already the only multiple Gravesend Handicap winner in history, Say Florida Sandy can surpass the $2 million mark in earnings if he can finish in the exacta in Thursday's feature. Nearly 9 with earnings of $1,982,255, Say Florida Sandy won the Gravesend in 1998 and 2000. "It would be great hitting $2 million on a win," owner John Rotella said. "He wins this race every two years, so I guess he's due."
On Dec. 11, he ran extremely hard when finishing second to Sing Me Back Home in a classified allowance. Earlier in the year, Say Florida Sandy's connections brought the horse back on only two weeks rest on May 25th, but finished a tired third as the even-money favorite in a classified allowance race.
"I'm really not concerned he's coming back on 15 days," Rotella said. "He's 0-for-10 on wet tracks and that track we caught the other day wasn't sloppy, but it had a lot of moisture. He protects himself and I don't think it was his 'A' race. I guess that's why he's run 91 times. He bounced out of his last race in good shape. This is the best he's looked since I got him."
$100,000 Gravesend (gr. III), 3 7 up, 6 furlongs PP HORSE, JOCKEY, WGT.
1 Gold I.D., Norberto Arroyo Jr., 113
2 Wrangler, Javier Castellano, 116
3 Multiple Choice, Victor Carrero, 118
4 Say Florida Sandy, Richard Migliore, 117
5 Sing Me Back Home, John McKee, 114
6 Vino Solo, C.C. Lopez, 112
7 Sassy Hound, Mike Luzzi, 118
8 Late Carson, Shaun Bridgmohan, 117
9 Crossing Point, Ryan Fogelsonger, 118