It was quite the Saturday in the bonded territories of South Florida and New York. In the Big Apple, Breeders’ Cup performers dominated the Cigar Mile, sweeping the first three positions.

In the Remsen Stakes, Catholic Boy showed that he has a future on any surface and Demoiselle winner Wonder Gadot got the good trip she lacked in the Juvenile Fillies.

In Hallandale Beach, the best of the sport’s blue collar horses put on a great, competitive show with a mix of predictable favorites and many challenging price shots in a dizzying display of what the game is all about—a little something for everyone.

Horses ship into Hallandale Beach from the north all the time, but rarely from Northern California where Mended, in order to get to Gulfstream Park, first had to endure an eight hour van ride to LAX, and a layover, before finally making the long cross country trek.

She might have won by more than 6-3/4 lengths had she had a little time to catch her breath.
Before taking the track for the aptly named Glass Slipper, the equine Cinderella was saddled away from the other horses--Gunnevera style--and was the last filly to join the post parade despite a post position in the middle of the 14-filly event.

Claimed by John Martin for $12,500 in January after owner Troy Onorato picked her from three horses Martin recommended, the trainer had his work cut out when she arrived in the barn with a sore foot.

After nursing her back to health, Martin entered her back at the same distance on Feb. 19, at the same level of claim, and promptly won. It was the beginning of a 10-race winning streak that might surpass another Northern California equine legend.

The improbable run included a one mile victory on turf, a two-turn mile score on Del Mar’s quirky dirt surface, followed by a 1 mile-70 yard trip at Pleasanton, before winning her Golden Gate finale on Oct. 22 before shipping to South Florida.

After getting away a bit tardily, Mended was hustled to the lead by regular partner Ricardo Gonzalez, was pressed on the one-turn mile pace throughout, was hard ridden to open ground approaching midstretch and won geared down by continuing to widen in 1:36.42.

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Mended Gets Her Perfect 10 Geared Down
The owner had to talk Martin into shipping in for her toughest test, the trainer admitting he was choosing the softest spots he could find to protect a winning streak that has lasted 11 months.

Her 10th straight victory matched the feat of another Golden Gate legend, Lost in the Fog, the Sprint Champion of 2005, until his streak was snapped in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Prior to that he won 10 straight, including nine stakes. The late speedster is buried in the Golden Gate infield alongside the legendary stretch runner, Silky Sullivan.

Martin wants to make it to 12 straight and said he will do everything in his power to see that it happens. Wonder what Onorato will think about future spots now that his filly has conquered the Claiming Crown, parlaying a $12,500 investment into nearly $200K.

PACO, PACO, PACO


Paco Lopez brought down the curtain on the 19th annual event with a wire victory in the Claiming Crown Jewel from post 12, believed to be the first horse since Big Brown to win a nine furlong race from that slip. And he got there in a hurry, too: 1.48.76.

The gelded four year old was claimed for $20,000 by Jorge Navarro at Monmouth Park July 21. Rating kindly for Lopez throughout, he held off Flashy Jewel, an $80,000 claim at Saratoga August 23.

Unlike Mended, 2-1 favorite Gigantic Breeze was unable to make the synth-to-dirt transition and never lifted a leg, second from last of 12 runners.

Lopez also won with the Distaff Dash with Blue Bahia, a $30,000 claim on April 7 and the Tiara with Martini Glass, second in the G1 Spinster last out after starting her season in a $16,000 optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs, March 12.

Favorites had a rough day—a Claiming Crown tradition—as did the locals. Only two winners of the nine Claiming Crown events raced in South Florida last time out, including turf sprint course record holder, Pay Any Price.
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Paco Lopez Completes
Claiming Crown Trifecta

LIFE AFTER BREEDERS’ CUP

Five horses that raced in the Breeders’ Cup on the first weekend in November returned on the first weekend in December and swept both Grade 2s for two year olds and completed the trifecta in the Cigar Mile.

Wonder Gadot, a troubled sixth in the Juvenile Fillies, rebounded in a big way, confidently handled for the first time in her five race career by Johnny Velazquez, who stalked a soft pace set by second favorite Daisy until ready and headstretch.

She separated herself from the group through the lane and, like Mended at Gulfstream, proved that she can win on dirt, turf or synthetic surfaces.

Catholic Boy, the ‘wise guy’ horse of the Juvenile Turf after winning Saratoga’s G3 With Anticipation, raced exceedingly well in his dirt debut, drawing off impressively to win the Remsen, increasing his margin in deep stretch and galloping out well after the finish.

The More Than Ready colt from the Bernardini mare, Song of Bernadette, was well handled by Manuel Franco, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2017.

The rangy bay has enjoyed excellent management from Jonathan Thomas, the young trainer whose winning at a 31% clip since in his first full campaign since going out on his own after leaving his role as one of Todd Pletcher’s long time assistants.

But the star of the show was the thoroughly comprehensive victory of Sharp Azteca, who rated off a fast, contested pace for Javier Castellano, aboard for the first time. The 125 pound highweight spotted runnerup Mind Your Biscuits three pounds and third finisher Practical Joke five.

In winning his first Grade 1, Sharp Azteca, a complete picture in the paddock pre-race, made an otherwise dullish surface seem normal, stopping the timer in 1:35.17. The winning margin was 5-1/4 lengths.

With their connections seriously considering a run in the Pegasus, the front end scenario with Sharp Azteca and Gun Runner should be quite interesting, yes?

BRISKY BUSINESS

With the Cigar Mile card pushed back to the first weekend in December, with good weather and reconstituted turf course, NYRA had a big day with handle of over $11.8 million.

But Gulfstream Park appears bullet proof. With one more race, the Claiming Crown handled more than $11.9 million. Handle on the event has grown every year since it made it South Florida debut in 2012.

The Claiming Crown card topped $11 million for the first time in 2016 and increased this year by more than 7 percent.
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Getting Gulfstream 2018 in Preparedness

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 3, 2017
Photos by Toni Pricci