Gulch Approval, ridden by Roberto Alvarado Jr., grabbed the lead soon after the start and led the field all the way to an upset victory in the $100,000 Appleton Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream Park turf Saturday.
The 6-year-old Gulch Approval, a 15-1 shot trained by Reynaldo Abreu for the Marylou Whitney Stables, defeated his pace rival, Old Dodge, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, by one-half length in the one-mile event. Drum Major, Rafael Bejarano aboard, was three-quarters of a length farther behind in third, with Saint Stephen finishing fourth. The final time was 1:32 4/5 on firm going.
The grade I winner Host, the 7-5 favorite in the field of nine with John Velazquez in the irons, was forced to take up severely while rallying between horses in mid-stretch and lost all chance in his first start of 2006. He finished eighth.
Gulch Approval was coming off a nose victory over Appleton rival Old Forester in his last start, an optional claiming/allowance race on the Churchill Downs grass Nov. 2. That was his only win in 10 starts in 2005. Prior to that, the Gulch
gelding ran third, beaten by three lengths by Host, in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) on the Keeneland turf.
"I wasn't concerned about the layoff," said Abreu, the former Nick Zito assistant who won his first stakes race on his own. "He'd been racing pretty hard last season, and we had him going five-eighths (workouts). The owners agreed we could give him a layoff, and he could come back and be just as strong.
"It was frustrating last year because he was really unlucky with getting pressed (on the lead) in all his races. If he can go an easy half-mile, he will have something left."
After bolting out of the gate to grab the early lead, Gulch Approval was overtaken by Old Dodge briefly for the lead. Gulch Approval gained control of the pace once again before they ran a quarter mile and carried them into the stretch. Fractions were unavailable.
Old Dodge stubbornly held on while racing on the outside as Drum Major rallied along the inside, overtaking a tiring L'Oiseau d'Argent in the stretch. Old Forester on the extreme outside and Host on his inside were making up ground rapidly from the back of the pack on the far turn. But in the stretch, Host ran out of room and took up. Gulch Approval, meanwhile, edged away gradually in mid-stretch and was all out to last over the Brazilian-bred Old Dodge.
"(Gulch Approval) made it pretty easy," Alvarado said. "So I just let him run, and he took care of everything from there."
Gulch Approval, bred in Kentucky by Milton Hendry and W.S. Farish, won for the eighth time in 36 career starts and increased his earnings to $589,089.
The winner paid $33, $14.40, and $7 and topped a $336.80 exacta with Old Dodge, who returned $13.60 and $9.20. Drum Major was $4.40 to show.
After Saint Stephen came Old Forester, L'Oiseau d'Argent, Ecclesiastic, Host, and Network.