Friday, January 23, 2009

Barn notes GP 1-23

Macho Again Ready to Strut in OBS Classic

After spending 2008 in a ‘Big Brown’ shadow, West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again is ready to step into the sun as one of the top choices in Saturday’s $1 million OBS Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park.

The 4-year-old son of Macho Uno battled through a hardcore campaign last year, running the gauntlet to a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and a victory in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga. He also endured a rough trip in the Travers Stakes (G1) where he finished eighth and had to settle for second in the Super Derby (G2) after traffic hampered his closing kick.

With eyes on the big purse of Saturday’s Florida-bred/California-bred clash, trainer Dallas Stewart gave Macho Again a vacation. After a sixth-place tune-up on turf at the Fair Grounds Dec. 20, the plan is coming together nicely.

“After the Super Derby we took the Breeders’ Cup off the table and wanted to give him time to fill out, get his energy back and get his weight back,” said Stewart while holding Macho Again through a morning bath at Gulfstream. “He’s responded well.”

The loss in his seasonal debut in the Woodchopper Stakes has not daunted Stewart at all. The Mississippi native says it was necessary and can be completely discounted.

“We had to get him going again because we didn’t want to go into this race being his first start in four months,” he said. “There were no other options to run except on the turf. It did help get him focused and in the right competitive frame of mind.”

Stewart expects jockey Kent Desormeaux to guide Macho Again through his typical mid-pack trip, and that the colt’s prep race and training will insure all the rust from the layoff will be gone.

“It’s a competitive race and he’s going to be in the middle of it,” said Stewart. “He’s gotten more and more focused every day and we’ve been working him in company every time to get his competitive spirit built up. He’s been doing well and getting better and better.”

Abrams Runners Seek Sunshine Millions Cash; His Stallion, Prestige

California-based trainer Barry Abrams is leading the raiding party to Gulfstream Park in an attempt to burnish the reputation of the stallion Unusual Heat, whom he co-owns.

The Florida-bred contingent far outnumbers the California-breds this year, and Abrams can earn more cash beyond the rich purses of the races if his three cross-country shippers are able to produce strong performances on the real dirt of Gulfstream Park.

“With all the tracks in California now synthetic surfaces, these races give their sire a chance to prove he’s not limited to just those types of tracks,” said Abrams while watching Bel Air Sizzle, the 4-year-old filly he owns with Madeline Auerbach and others. “Right now Unusual Heat is fully booked, but he’s not really considered a national sire. Some good races on dirt could change that.”

Abrams, who co-owns all his horses with various partners, sends 4-year-old filly Flashover in the $300,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint. She is 2-for-2 to start her career, both wins at Santa Anita.

He will also saddle Medzendeekron in the $1 million OBS Sunshine Millions Classic. It will be that 6-year-old gelding’s first race on dirt since two attempts to break his maiden at Hollywood Park in 2006, prior to the mandated switch that all tracks in that state convert to artificial surfaces.

“With Flashover it’s not a gamble, but a question mark whether she will handle it,” said Abrams. “Without this program she would have had little or no opportunity to try and find out. If either of the main track horses can finish 1-2-3 on dirt it’s really going to help Unusual Heat.”

Abrams expects Medzendeekron to be a speedy presence in the headline race as he stretches out to 1 1/8 miles after sprinting in his last seven starts. He says the gelding was named for an ancient Armenian king by one of his partners, David Nakashian.

Bel Air Sizzle races in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, where Abrams calls her a “proven commodity.” She will face fellow Californian shipper Wild Promises, who promises to be one of the biggest favorites on the card.

Abrams has Spenditallbaby ready to start back home at Santa Anita in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff

Donn & Gulfstream Turf Highlight Action Next Weekend at Gulfstream

Renewals of the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) Saturday and $300,000 Gulfstream Turf Handicap (G1) Sunday are among six graded stakes to be run next weekend at Gulfstream Park, two each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Expected to lead the cast for the 51st edition of the Donn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles are Shadwell Stable’s Albertus Maximus, Midnight Cry Stable’s Einstein, Allen Paulson Living Trust’s A.P. Arrow and Jay Em Ess Stable’s Arson Squad.

Albertus Maximus makes his first start for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin since being purchased privately after capturing the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. A good effort in the Donn by the 5-year-old son of Albert the Great will send him to the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on Mar. 28.

Einstein’s imposing resume includes winning the Gulfstream Turf twice (2006 & 2008), but the immediate goal for the 7-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Spend a Buck is to enhance his credentials in main-track events with his potential value at stud in mind. Einstein makes his first start since capturing the Clark Handicap (G2) on dirt at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 for trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi.

Sharing the spotlight on Saturday’s program with the Donn will be the $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds, also run at 1 1/8 miles, and a key preview of potential Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects. The $750,000 Florida Derby will be run on Sat., Mar. 28.

The probable field for the Holy Bull includes Harold Queen’s Big Drama, John Oxley’s Beethoven, Lansdon Robbins III and Sam Delaney’s Danger to Society, Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s A.P. Cardinal, My Meadowview Farm’s Nowhere to Hide and Lori and George Hall’s West Side Bernie and/or Atomic Rain.

Next weekend’s stakes action kicks off on Friday with renewals of the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and $150,000 Forward Gal Stakes (G2), companion events for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, the latter for fillies.

Leading candidates for the Hutcheson include Eli Gindl’s Break Water Edison and Elizabeth Valando’s Hello Broadway, both making their 3-year-olds debut after finishing one-two, respectively, last out in the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on Nov. 2; and Joseph Rauch and David Zell’s Capt. Candyman Can.

The lineup for the Forward Gal may include Melnyk Racing Stable’s Gemswick Park, Martin Schwartz’ Elusive Heat and Dare To Dream Stable’s Frolic’s Dream, who finished one-two-three last out in the six-furlong Old Hat Stakes (G3) here on Jan. 4, separated by a head in a thriller finish.

The Gulfstream turf course will be in the spotlight Sunday with the Gulfstream Turf Handicap, shortened this year from 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/8 miles, and the $125,000 Suwannee River Handicap (G3) at the same distance for fillies and mares, to be run for the 62nd time.

The clear favorite and center of attention in the Gulfstream Turf will be IEAH Stables and partners’ 6-year-old Kip Deville in his season debut for trainer Rick Dutrow. The roan/gray son of Kipling won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Monmouth Park and finished second to the outstanding French filly Goldikova in that race run at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Prominent among likely starters in the Suwannee River are Three Chimneys Racing’s Irish-bred 5-year-old mare Callwood Dancer and Stronach Stable’s 4-year-oild filly Ginger Brew, both Sovereign Award champions in Canada last year; and Dennis Federico’s Waquoit’s Love and Darley Stable’s Sea Chanter, one-two in the Marshua’s River Stakes over the course on Jan. 11.

Dream Empress Gets Back to Work at Palm Meadows

Livin the Dream Stable’s 3-year-old filly Dream Empress breezed a sharp three furlongs in 36 3/5 Friday morning at Palm Meadows as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) runner-up posted her first workout of the year for trainer Ken McPeek.

The daughter of Bernstein won the Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on Oct. 3 in her third career start before her excellent effort in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 when beaten only 1½ lengths by Stardom Bound, odds-on favorite to be acclaimed Eclipse champion of the division.

Dream Empress made one start after the Breeders’ Cup in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29, finishing fourth as the favorite. McPeek has indicated that Dream Empress is on schedule for a possible return to competition in late February or early March.

McPeek also has another accomplished 3-year-old filly prospect in Steve Stan Stable’s Striking Dancer, who also posted her first workout of the year Friday morning at Palm Meadows, timed a half-mile in 48 2/5. The daughter of Smart Strike ran well in all four of her starts last year, breaking her maiden on turf at Churchill by 5¾ lengths on Nov. 1 and finishing second last out in the Caressing Stakes over the course on Nov. 29.

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