Gulfstream Park Race Report: One-Turn Wonder

Published in the March 23 issue of The Blood-Horse
Even as Pat Day and Ethan Man were drawing away for a three-length win over Listen Here in the $150,000 Swale Stakes (gr. III) on the Florida Derby undercard, the opinions between owner and trainer were beginning to diverge. "Everybody wants to stretch their 3-year-olds out this time of year. Why's that?" asked trainer Pat Byrne with a wry smile after the seven-furlong race.

The smile was due to the fact Byrne, who trained Horse of the Year Favorite Trick, already knew the answer: Triple Crown Fever is becoming endemic. But Byrne, who had success with the precocious sprinter Richter Scale, seems to be of the opinion the son of Glitterman is closer to that model than one who would favor more ground. Told that Jim Cullen, a managing partner in ownership group West Point Thoroughbreds, had already said that the winner of three of four lifetime sprint starts would be pointed toward the 8 1/2-furlong Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) on April 20 at Keeneland, Byrne rejoined that the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) might also be an option. "There's nothing wrong with having a nice miler," he said.

Dust in the Wind
Chalk another one up for the "Giant Killer." In the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) on March 15, trainer Allen Jerkens, who never met a heavy favorite he felt couldn't be beat, set his sights on the 3-5 Belterra and knocked her off with Cynthia Knight's lightly-raced homebred Dust Me Off.

"I figured if ever she could be had, today was the day," Jerkens said of Belterra. The daughter of Unbridled won all three of her starts last year at two, but had not raced since winning Churchill Downs' Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) on Thanksgiving weekend. "They don't win them all no matter who they are. There are not many Personal Ensigns out there."

Despite being 8-1 --the second longest in the field of six 3-year-old fillies--Dust Me Off had won both of her tries over the dirt, including a 5 3/4-length allowance tally in her last start last month. It was her only loss, a dull sixth over the turf, that was perplexing. "She had a lot of trouble in that race, but she really didn't take off once she got free the way you like to see them do on grass," Jerkens said. He added, "Just because she's by With Approval doesn't make her a turf horse. I don't run them on the grass if they can win on the dirt."

Dust Me Off proved she can win on dirt, courtesy of a cagey front-running ride by Mark Guidry. In winning his first Gulfstream stakes since 1993, the rider kept the angular gray in the three-path throughout, repelling first a pair of challenges down the backside by Stormy Frolic and then one from Nonsuch Bay at the head of the lane. John Velazquez, the latter's rider, filed an objection against the winner. "She came out into me and kind of intimidated my horse," he said. The objection didn't stand. Instead, he had to watch as Dust Me Off drew off to a 3 1/4-length victory. Nonsuch Bay held second by a half-length over the heavy favorite. Belterra's trainer, Carl Nafzger, offered no excuse for the finish.

The final time of 1:49.67 was a stakes record since the distance of the Bonnie Miss was extended to 1 1/8 miles, and sets up Dust Me Off for a run at Belmont's Triple Tiara that commences with the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) on June 7.

At the Wire
In addition to Harlan's Holiday and Ethan Man, a plethora of promising sophomore colts were on display on Florida Derby Day. They included Peter Karches' Fast Decision; a first-time starter from Bill Mott's barn named Yankee Gentleman--who stopped the clock in his 11-length win just .14 seconds slower than Ethan Man; and allowance winner Buddha, who has all the stampings of a classic horse for trainer James Bond...The March 17 Hurricane Bertie Handicap belonged to Gold Mover, one of Edward Evans' remarkable 4-year-old homebred fillies. Eibar Coa rode her for trainer Mark Hennig... A pair of trainer Todd Pletcher's gifted 3-year-olds from last season returned following layoffs for their 4-year-old debuts last week, with similar results. Both 2001 Illinois Derby (gr. II) winner Distilled and Invisible Ink, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) who had not started since the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), hit the board without challenging in allowance sprints...Bay Street Gal and Unite's Big Red scored wins in the pair of $100,000 one-mile grass stakes restricted to Florida-breds on the Florida Derby undercard, the One Dreamer and Equalize Stakes, respectively. The latter was the first stakes winner for trainer Gary Cortolillo and was ridden by Jose Santos while J.D. Scott's homebred Bay Street Gal hails from the barn of Ricky Alonso and was piloted by Coa...Gulfstream Park went into expansion mode starting March 17, the first day of its extended meet allowed by state deregulation. With Hialeah not running, Gulfstream will continue through April 24. By Scott Davis

(Chart, Equibase)