The bird has flown, leaving us instead with the Aventura Stakes, Gulfstream Park's $250,000 replacement for Hialeah's signature Flamingo Stakes that served as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) for the likes of Citation and Seattle Slew. Based upon the returns of the inaugural Aventura, run on April 6, none of the nine 3-year-olds are likely to follow that path. "The Derby is all I dream about, but there are a lot of dreams in this business," said Martin Cherry after watching his Marasca more than quadruple his lifetime earnings in his seventh career start with a 1 1/4-length victory. Enter trainer John Kimmel, who watched the race from Oaklawn Park where he was to saddle Miss Linda in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I). "The Derby would be too much to ask," the trainer said, quickly dousing any aspirations. "An improving 3-year-old can be dangerous, but he's not a world beater." Marasca had proven that coming into the Aventura with just a neck score to his credit--and that in a seven-furlong maiden race in January. He ran well but was losing ground late in two subsequent allowance efforts, which led to the decision by jockey Chris DeCarlo to allow the son of Take Me Out to settle in third early rather than challenging pacesetterMajor Focus. Once DeCarlo moved to challenge the leader, he found that Charioteer had the same idea and he quickly retreated. "Leaving the backstretch I thought he was backing up so I got him into the bit and he just took off. After that I guess he was giving himself a little breather." The breather ended when DeCarlo re- engaged Charioteer and emerged from the turn with an open lead he would not relinquish. Heavily-favored Equality made up some ground but was no threat to the winner, who
completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.11. Cherry, who had a starter in the Hambletonian during his days as a Standardbred breeder, has never seen his colors in the Kentucky Derby. He seems content to sit this one out. "If we're going to send him to Kentucky it's got to be because he has a chance," he said. "I don't want to go there just to occupy a hotel room."
Mystic Lady returned from a six-month layoff to kick off 2002 as she spent most of 2001: in the winner's circle following a 1 1/16-mile stakes. The Lee Lewis-owned daughter of Thunder Gulch, who traveled the country last year while scoring in six stakes at the trip over five different tracks, determinedly held off Happily Unbridled by three-quarters of a length in the $75,000 Banshee Breeze Handicap on April 5. Eibar Coa was aboard. The race also marked the return of two-time grade I winner Jostle following a winless 2001 campaign. Purchased by WinStar Farm ostensibly for broodmare duty, the runner-up for champion 3-year-old filly in 2000 was instead returned to the races when new trainer Elliott Walden found her healthier than expected. And while Jostle ran admirably, chasing the front-running Mystic Lady within a length through progressively faster quarter splits in the Banshee Breeze, she ultimately gave way and tired to finish third. "I loved the way she really picked it up at the end," said winning trainer Mark Hennig, noting Mystic Lady's fourth quarter split of :23.79. "This is a filly who never gets the respect she deserves even though she does everything right."
The trainer expects Mystic Lady to handle extra distance better with the added year of maturity--she ran third in one of her two nine-furlong tries as a 3-year-old last year. He is planning a campaign that he hopes will culminate at precisely that distance in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).Gulf Streams
The Graham Motion-trained He's a Knockout, Ramon Dominguez aboard, was two lengths the best in the inaugural $100,000 Artax Handicap on the Aventura undercard...With most of the top riders having relocated their tacks, Cornelio Velasquez had a huge week. His 13 wins for the five racing days moves him into second place, 18 shy of Edgar Prado's lead. His biggest win came in the April 7 Via Borghese Stakes when he was aboard for the third straight stakes win by Bob Walker's homebred 3-year-old filly Cellars Shiraz. (Chart, Equibase)