The problem with a day like yesterday at Gulfstream Park is where does one begin to assess everything that happened. Every division may or may not have been something impactful but, whatever it is, there sure was a lot of it. Too much, it can be argued.

What is not in question is that track management succeeded in their goal. The idea at the start of the “Championship Meet” was to celebrate the best in racing on three huge days; Pegasus World Cup, Fountain of Youth Stakes day and Florida Derby.

Two down, one to go.
But we’re hoping this doesn’t mean 15 races on Florida Derby day. That day, sunlight, or lack thereof, won’t be a problem. And neither will handle. The 2018 Fountain of Youth didn’t set any track records but it did set a handle mark, with one more race, of $28.5 million.

Quicker than you can say ho hum, consider the widespread, if sporadic, power outages in the Northeast, thanks to the storm of the same name that wrought windy precipitation. Incredibly, handle could have been higher.

A strong wind in Hallandale Beach on an otherwise Chamber of Commerce afternoon—cloudless sky, temps in high 70s--wreaked havoc with finishing fractions all day, the surface loose and dry on top, producing more than its share of stinging kickback. It played as if it were two seconds slower than par.

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Flying So High: GP President Tim Ritvo (4th
on right), helps mark McGaughey milestone.

It was the kind of surface where speed did well because late runners were spinning their wheels over it trying to launch a rally. The two path seemed ideal, but the glibbest part of the dirt appeared to be the outside. Main track winners needed to be dead fit.

We’ll go through the stakes in a flash—all eight graded events--and concentrate on the Fountain of Youth, in which juvenile champion Good Magic made an inauspicious 2018 debut in HRI’s 11th annual Kentucky Derby poll among staffers and contributors later on.

Hardly categorized as a spoiler alert, there was a change at the top, which also probably will be reflected in the national NTRA pool tomorrow evening.

Grade 3 The Very One Stakes: Figure players made Daring Duchess an overbet public choice but Holy Helena, classy going in, proved it coming out and indicating there is more in the tank. The $9.40 mutuel was the quintessence of value.

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Ken and Patti Reeves lead GP Sprint
Winner, Classic Rock, into the circle.
After all, if you can beat 12 males in the always hard-fought Canadian-Grade 1 Queens Plate, you should be able to win a Grade 3 in SoFla. She did and that’s two straight on the GP lawn with the promise of more turf stakes to come.

Jimmy Jerkens returned in a half hour later to win the listed Sand Springs with Team of Teams with an able assist from Johnny Velazquez, who completely undressed his rivals by gaining the softest of leads before sprinting to the finish. Improving filly; top horsemanship.

Odds-on favorite Celestine, now 6, has lost a step to time but, given the dynamics, even on her best day she may not have had the turn of foot needed to run down Team of Teams who re-broke after straightening away and flew home. Improving filly; great horsemanship.

Lots of lessons learned in the G3 Palm Beach. First, Speed Franco reacted to his most recent win in G3 Dania Beach; he’s better than that.

Crowd went overboard (5-2) on the very promising Hawkish, still green, a little too keen early, then made a balcony move on turn into hottest part of the pace before tiring. We don’t believe at this stage that he wants to be tactical: Take back and make one run.

Maraud was better than I suspected, and that’s my bad. A troubled-start third in G3 Pilgrim at 2; he was third in his GP debut before returning to win an optional allowances at Saturday’s trip. Got a great inside-position trip from Johnny—duh!

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Mitchell Leparoux, with Proud Papa Julien,
celebrating victory of Sadler's Joy

Graham Motion might as well just leave G3-winning Thewayjam here. The Herecomesthebride heroine won her third straight and second graded stakes at the meet. Jose Ortiz gave her a great trip, bursting through inside before drawing off as much the best.

Flying So High gave Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey a milestone victory; career win 2000. And talk about much the best! Forced to race wide throughout the flat mile, she won with a trip that doesn’t win at Gulfstream. And she still opened ground late to win by 3!

Ortiz cautiously dismounted the filly on far turn and she was vanned off. But she cooled out well Saturday night and, of greater significance, on Sunday morning. She’s everything McGaughey believes she is and, in our view, will be better around two turns.

Hogy is on his way to becoming a “people’s horse.” Now, under Mike Maker’s care, Hogy might be even better than his lifetime (49) 18-13-5 slate indicates. Career victory 19 was his first start beyond true sprint distances and he’s now 1-for-1 going a mile.

This field was no match for him when the running started through the lane and he was one of five winners for Irad Ortiz, which included the Fountain of Youth winner. Parenthetically, younger brother Jose had three.

One of those came in a high quality maiden race in which Bill Mott was at his best; getting Hofburg to win off a 182-day layup while making his two turn debut.

From post 11, Hofburg raced four-to five-deep throughout and still won, contextually even better than Flying So High’s ground-losing effort. Mott’s Belmont horse?

Classic Rock showed a dimension I didn’t know he had, the ability to overcome some adversity from off the pace. Fortunate to find a lane inside a drifting leader, he had an excellent turn of foot to separate himself from his G3 Gulfstream Park Sprint rivals.

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Chad Brown had reason to be concerned
HRI has learned that he’s right on time for his ultimate summer goal, the June 30 G3 Smile on the Summit of Speed program.

Even though he broke through with his first career Grade 1 win in Saratoga’s Sword Dancer last year, 2018 could be Sadler’s Joy’s year.

In winning the G2 Mac Diarmida in his 5-year-old debut, he was a Grade-1 type vs. many Grade 2 types, coming from last with a tremendous turn of late foot beneath Julien Leparoux--who could not have timed in better. It was an excellent performance.

The late spring goal is Belmont’s G1 Sword Dancer but there could be a dance in between, such as the G2 Pan American on the Florida Derby undercard, MAR 31. He looked great in the ring, a job very well done by Tom Albertrani, who had him conditioned and sharp.

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Irad Ortiz Jr., live for five, fulfills that promise
We will have much more on the Fountain of Youth in HRI’s Top 10 Derby Poll, which will be posted later Monday a.m., but I will leave you with this: Short horses can run good or run bad in doing so. In our view of Good Magic’s effort was the latter.

This does not mean he won’t win his second prep of the season, presumably Keeneland’s Blue Grass, but it doesn’t mean he will win, either.

Even though I loved Good Magic’s two company works and his solo blowout visually, they clearly weren’t enough to give him the fitness he needed for Saturday’s tiring, cuppy surface.

And that’s on me. Chad Brown stated he wanted Good Magic at tops for May’s first Saturday, not March’s. I should have given that more consideration. Obviously, he was being candid and not just lowering expectations


Photos by Toni Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH, March 4, 2018