The outside wall of Gulfstream Park's clubhouse is adorned with a huge fresco of gold and light blue, a representation of the colors worn by John Oxley's Monarchos when he captured last year's Florida Derby (gr. I) en route to victory in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). While that colt was back in action Jan. 19, making his return from a seven-month layoff following a knee injury (see page 466), a newly-acquired colt named Booklet gave Oxley reason to hope that a fresh paint job would not be necessary. "I took on a serious case of Derby fever just about one year ago today, and I never gave it up," smiled Oxley after Booklet scored a front-running three-quarter-length win over favored Harlan's Holiday in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). The race is the true commencement of Gulfstream's series of races for 3-year-olds leading to the March 16 Florida Derby and beyond. "It's not the kind of feeling you ever want to extinguish," Oxley said. The flame was lit after Booklet captured the In Reality Stakes last October, a $400,000 event limited to the progeny of Florida stallions, for his fourth win in five starts. With bloodstock adviser John Sellers making the connection, Oxley privately purchased the colt from Philip and Marcia Cohen and Steve Klesaris. Oxley speaks glowingly of Booklet's pedigree, especially mentioning the family of dam Crafty Bobbie. The sale was concluded last month, and the colt headed from Klesaris' barn to that of John Ward Jr. "(Sellers) is the bloodstock guru; my job is just to give him his oats," joked Ward, also Monarchos' trainer. "Steve got him ready and was pointing him for this race. I really didn't have to do that much." That was in stark contrast to Eibar Coa, who had quite a bit to do on the colt's back. Breaking in stride from the two hole, Booklet surged out to the lead, and hugged the rail heading into the first turn as Thiscannonsloaded and Nokoma chased, forcing Harlan's Holiday four wide. The field maintained that position down the backstretch through a half-mile in :48, with little change until Tony D'Amico urged Harlan's Holiday near the three-eighths pole. The heavy favorite quickly moved into striking range entering the far turn. Then Coa got busy. Though the rider twice peeked over his left shoulder, he allowed Booklet to drift two paths to his right, forcing D'Amico to make a wide trip even wider. "I knew that horse was outside of me and I wanted to make him work a little harder," said Coa. The two did battle down the stretch even as straight paths were hard to come by. Twice Booklet drifted out and both times it took firm right-handed urging by Coa to right his course. The chalk never got closer than the final margin. "He came out into me a little, but I just wasn't able to get by," said D'Amico. Booklet hit the wire in 1:46.16. It was 11 lengths between Harlan's Holiday and third-place finisher Thiscannonsloaded. The winner is expected to head directly into the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) where the water gets much deeper. Among those also expected for that Feb. 16 test is Repent, a colt trainer Kenny McPeek thinks is more talented than his stablemate Harlan's Holiday. But both Oxley and Ward can be reassured by the colors on the west-facing wall, worn by a colt with only a maiden win to his credit at this time last year. "I really didn't know what I had when he first came to my barn," said Ward of Booklet. "But the more I see the more I like him." Gulfstream Notes
Mark Hennig, who has no fewer than five Edward Evans homebred stakes winners in his barn, selected Raging Fever to bring home the bacon in the Jan. 18 First Lady Handicap (gr. III), and the 4-year-old did not disappoint, taking John Velazquez to an easy two-length win over Cat Cay in the six-furlong race. "She's back to where she was in August or September of her 2-year-old year," Hennig said of the favorite for the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)...John Ward, who personally escorted Monarchos from the track following his third-place finish in an optional claimer/allowance, reported that the colt "cooled out just perfectly" and would still be pointed toward the Feb. 9 Donn Handicap (gr. I)...Favored Crash Course, a Mack Robinson homebred who hails from the barn of Hall of Famer Jimmy Croll, benefited from a perfectly timed ride by Jerry Bailey to score in the Mac Diarmida Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Jan. 20.