Pleasant Breeze Ends Layoff in Skip Away

From Gulfstream Park
With topweighted Pleasant Breeze making his first start in nearly five months, the entry box filled to the brim for Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream Park.

The mile and a sixteenth event for older horses, formerly run as the Broward Handicap, honors Skip Away, owned by Carolyn Hine and trained by the late Sonny Hine, who was Horse of the Year in 1998. The race serves as a prep for the $500,000 Donn Handicap (grade I), to be run Saturday, Feb. 3.

A total of 14 horses were entered for the Skip Away, with Pleasant Breeze the likely favorite as he goes from Post 10 with Jorge Chavez named to ride.

The 6-year-old son of Pleasant Tap has enjoyed two solid seasons in a row under the care of trainer Jim Bond. In 1999 he capped his season with a victory in the Meadowlands Cup (grade II) and last year won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (grade II) before he went to the sidelines in August.

Pleasant Breeze has been training steadily at Payson Park the last six weeks in preparation for his return. He must shoulder topweight of 118 pounds here, giving from three to nine pounds to his rivals.

Trainer Pat Byrne has a real chance in here with the streaking Duckhorn, a 4-year-old by Not for Love who will be seeking his fifth straight victory. Duckhorn carried 119 pounds to victory in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Laurel in his last start on Nov. 12. He gets in here at 114 with Pat Day aboard, but will have to go from Post 12.

Trainer Bill Mott has named a pair of solid performers in Rock and Roll and Vision and Verse. Because of separate ownership they are not coupled, and Mott has said that it is likely Rock and Roll will run only if the track comes up wet.

Rock and Roll was third in the Broward last year when he went off the favorite under topweight of 120 pounds. However, he ran into the South African buzzsaw Horse Chestnut and was more than five lengths back at the end. The 6-year-old gets in with 115 pounds this year and Javier Castellano was named to ride.

Vision and Verse is Mott's dry track performer. The 5-year-old made a name finishing second at big prices in the 1999 Belmont (grade I) and Travers (grade I) stakes. Last year, he managed just one allowance win in six tries. Jerry Bailey has the call Saturday at 114 pounds.

Bernie Flint sends out Noble Ruler, who has won his last two starts. The 4-year-old took two allowance races at Churchill Downs last fall in a 2000 campaign limited to just six starts. In his first outing, he won the Lecomte Handicap at the Fair Grounds.

Noble Ruler carries 113 pounds with John Velazquez in the irons for the first time as they go from Post 11.

The others entered in this wide-open event are Steady Sammy, 109, Roger I. Velez; Testing, 114, Jose Velez Jr.; Cat's at Home, 113, Richard Migliore; Western Honors, 111, Angel Castillo; Rich Celebration, 113, Jose Santos; American Halo, 113, Robbie Davis; Lyracist, 114, Nick Petro; Six Fifteen, 113, Mike Smith, and Broadway Tune, 114, Rene Douglas.

Cat's at Home has a win and a second in two starts at Gulfstream for trainer Mark Hennig. The 4-year-old by Tabasco Cat came to his best form last summer and fall, when he won three races, including the Paterson Handicap at the Meadowlands.

Western Honors has also scored over the local surface, but will be stepping up in company here for trainer Manny Azpurua.

American Halo is in sharp form for Angel Medina. The 5-year-old upset the Fred Hooper Handicap (grade III) on Dec. 30 at Calder, winning by a half-length at 76-1.

Rich Celebration won the Jatski Stakes at Calder last out for Milton Wolfson on Dec. 30.