Two very interesting race cards on Florida Saturday but a somewhat predictably mundane winter racing card in New York.

Love the idea that the Aqueduct main track has been converted to an all-seasons dirt surface, and thrilled that the turf course has been widened to accommodate diversity, quality and quantity.

But for many racing fans, there’s nothing like a respite from a Northeast and mid-Atlantic winter schedule. In South Florida, there was an embarrassment of graded riches; five Grade 3s, each meant to kick off divisional series. Bettors responded with all-sources handle of $12 million.

As quality laden as the Gulfstream program was, it was rivaled in our eyes by Tampa Bay Downs which apparently knows a good Saturday formula when it sees one:

Card as many stakes as possible and throw in lots of juvenile races with big fields. It also helps when the turf course is one of the best in America.

Eight of 10 races were run for juveniles, including traditional series starters, the Sandpiper for fillies and the Inaugural for colts soon-to-be three year olds, with two more stakes for Florida-breds; the City of Ocala and Marion County.

Pole Position Can Be a Killer

Take your pick of two fillies who failed at odds on; Curlin’s Approval, who finished second at 1-1 in the G3 Rampart at a flat mile or Dearest at 1-2. In the case of the former, there is the possibility that she may been beaten by a better filly.

Although the trip handicapper in me believes that had Curlin’s Approval been stalking Lewis Bay instead of the other way around, the result might have been different, the operative word remains “might.”

You may recall that Lewis Bay—who finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Oaks and second in the Mother Goose, both Grade 1s of course—is a good filly. After all, it has been 385 days since fans last saw her race.

“It’s not easy to do…13 months and running against a really good filly,” said trainer Chad Brown, “She had minor stuff all last year but all the patience paid off. As a team we said in the paddock if she breaks really sharp, take it to the favorite.”

“I had a pretty good trip,” confirmed Irad Ortiz Jr. “I just let her break and be wherever she was comfortable. When I asked her she was there for me.” She will stay in training throughout 2018. Filly & Mare Sprint? Anyone?

Forced to leave quickly, Edgard Zayas broke Dearest very sharply from the pole but was joined immediately by True Romance who pressed her throughout, setting the table nicely for Rich Mommy, who sat comfortably outside beneath leading rider Luis Saez.

“The jockey followed instructions exactly and thank God it all worked out,” said winning trainer, Victor Barboza Jr. “It’s possible she will run next on Pegasus Day in the seven-furlong Grade 3 [Hurricane Bertie].”

It will be interesting to see how 7 furlongs works out; we’re a bit dubious.

Beauty Is As Beauty Does

When you look at Fear the Cowboy there’s not much that stands out about him—unless it’s his record you seek. His victory in the G3 Harlan’s Holiday improved his lifetime slate to (27) 9-7-2 and just might have run himself into the Pegasus World Cup:

“He’s an amazing horse; he’s traveled a lot these years,” explained trainer Efren Loza Jr. “Two days ago, we had to decide to ship him here or New Orleans, but he loves Gulfstream ([6] 4-1-1). The first time ridden by Javier – he did a good job.

“The Pegasus is a tough race but we are open to probably taking a chance because on this track he runs well.” Loza’s horses seem to run well on all tracks he ships to: Loza shippers win at a profitable 32% rate.

Irad Ortiz Jr. and Shug McGaughey embrace victory
Turf, Halls of Fame, Times Two

The My Charmer for fillies and mares was the first of two one-mile turf stakes. On Leave (4-5) had run consistently faster than Saturday’s group and against better rivals but was seeking her first graded win since the 2016 Sands Point to confirm the public’s faith in her. With one exception, her highest off-odds were 3-1 since that Saratoga Grade 2.

She rewarded Saturday’s backers in 1:35.35, but it would have been a lot more interesting had rallying Stormy Victoria gotten clear sailing. She didn’t and was a too-late third. Stable mail, please.

“I thought Irad rode a really good race,” said Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. “I told him to be a little more aggressive than in California. He hand-rode her at the end and I thought she did it well.”

Said Ortiz: “I rode her last time and she got in a lot of trouble and that’s why she didn’t win, she got beat by a nice filly. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. I warmed her up good and I put her right there. I knew she’d be all right at the end.”

In the Tropical Turf, Shakhimat could not have set the race up for himself any better than what transpired in the two-turn mile for males. He cruised to the lead after stalking a soft-paced, longshot leader and he kept rolling to the wire.

Trained by Canadian Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, Shakhimat needed 1:36.03 to get his job done, more a function of a half-mile in 49.74 than anything else. Attfield-trained Tower of Texas was third, split narrowly by Galton, denying the 1-2 Canadian finish.

“When I saw the first half-mile of the race and looked at the fractions, I said it’s all over as far as I’m concerned. His ears go up and he starts running that way. It worked out perfect--except we should have been second, too.”

Said jockey Zayas: “I was planning to stalk the pace and try to go as slow as I can. I didn’t want to keep fighting him, so I just put my hands down and let him roll from there. He was just playing at the end.”

“We’ll look at the Ft. Lauderdale,” added Attfield. “I don’t want to keep running the [stablemates] against each other if we can help it, but one of them will be in there, and it’ll probably be Shakhimat.”
Canadian Hall of Famer, Roger Attfield,
Announces Presence in South Florida

South Florida horseman David Fawkes shipped north from his Broward base to get the money with Surprise Wedding at Tampa Bay Downs, defeating among others, serious horse-for-course R Angel Katelyn in the City of Ocala.

But the Marion County featured an outstanding battle between budding speed rivals Three Rules and Mo Cash, the latter getting the better of Three Rules, a triumph of recency over freshness.

When last they met, Three Rules got the best of Mo Cash while getting a couple of pounds. Saturday they were at levels but with conditioning likely proving the difference.
Will Shakhimat Enjoy a Similar Trip in
the Ft. Lauderdale?

Tripping Out

I must have been… allowing a Fair Hill prepared, Graham Motion-trained juvenile filly Peach of a Gal get the money going a mile and a sixteenth on the grass and paying $53.20, without me!

We were, however, locked in on Motion’s Almond Roca to win the Sandpiper in a minor upset over Toni Ann’s Miracle, shipping up from GP West seeking her fourth straight. But Motion’s filly was awesome, drawing off to win by 9-1/4 lengths in 1:10.01.

Tampa was a little glib Saturday, but it wasn’t that fast. This filly has a bright future, as does Tricks to Doo, winner of the Inaugural by 7-1/4 lengths in 1:09.58. These babies are stone runners; follow with interest. The 10-race card attracted an all-sources $4.5 million.

First-timer Swash and Buckle finished well too late after the fact and won’t be a maiden long. Added distance likely would help but is not mandatory; follow back. Same for Madame Milan, brutalized entering the stretch going a mile on turf before finishing well on the fence through the lane; note.

I’m a big Joel Rosario fan but thought he outsmarted himself aboard Locomotion, which he muzzled and suppressed early. Bill Mott trainee finished very fast late after altering course in the stretch; bet back.

Meanwhile, highly successful bloodstock agent Steve Young noted that Navistar is better than his winning effort suggested in that event. “He’s immature mentally and won despite it. He’s a good horse.” Young is a man of few words; note.

Old School Family Wins Big A Feature

Jimmy Ferraro, trainer of upset winner Aunt Babe, who gave underrated Eric Cancel a riding triple, learned a lot from his dad, Jimmy Sr., who learned a lot from “The Chief.” They were the best of friends.

So it was gratifying to see longshot Aunt Babe out-finish the two choices, including Miss Hot Stones--whose gift for speed was squandered early--before out-bobbing Pure Silver at the finish. Ferraro was humble in victory:

“We got the right spot. The race came up light. There were over 300 fillies who were eligible for this race and only six of them showed up... "I trained the mother [Bella Silver] for a little while, she had a lot of class too.”

But she’ll need to step up from here: "I just tried to give her a confident ride,” said Cancel. "In the future, she'll continue to be a decent filly. It's tough in New York, there's a lot of good horses but hopefully she'll get better…”

Heartwarming story on a winter’s afternoon that attracted handle worth $6.8 million from all sources.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, December 17, 2017
Photos by Toni Pricci