Thursday, March 12, 2009

‘Cool Man’ & Smooth Air Clash in Gulfstream Park Handicap

Mount Joy Stable’s Smooth Air and Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man were prominent winning Grade 2 stakes at Gulfstream Park at this time last year on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), but checked in 11th and 15th, respectively, behind Big Brown at Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May in their only meeting.

The two 4-year-olds will likely be the favorites in a field of six older horses entered in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) to be run at one mile for the first time after decades contested at 1 ¼ miles and at 1 3/16 miles the last four renewals.

The 65th edition of the Gulfstream Park Handicap will share the spotlight on Saturday’s 11-race program with the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf with Padua Stable’s English-bred Duke of Homberg the likely choice in a field of seven.

Jockey Paco Lopez gets a return call on Smooth Air for trainer Bennie Stutts, Jr. in his second start this year since finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, beaten only 5 ¼ lengths for it all by Raven’s Pass with Curlin between them in fourth.

A Florida homebred by Smooth Jazz, Smooth Air won the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and finished second to Big Brown in the Florida Derby (G1) prior to the Kentucky Derby. He scored another big victory in the Ohio Derby (G2) at Thistledown in late May and finished a game second in the Tallahassee Stakes on turf here on Feb. 7 as a tune-up for Saturday’s race.

Jockey Jose Lezcano gets back aboard Cool Coal Man for trainer Nick Zito after they teamed up for a sharp allowance score going 6 ½ furlongs over the track on Jan. 28 in his season debut. The son of Mineshaft won the Fountain of Youth here early last year, but disappointed his connections in major events the rest of the campaign, except for a third-place effort behind Big Brown in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park.

Completing the field of six entered in the race are Brian Prichard’s How’s Your Halo, Juan Leyva; Marc Keller’s Bribon, Cornelio Velsquez; Rolbea Thoroughbred Racing’s Finallymadeit, Eduardo Nunez; and Robert N. Clay’s Formidable, Javier Castellano.

None in this group is a throw out. How’s Your Halo, Bribon and Formidable each come into the race with impressive victories over the track in their last starts while ‘Iron Horse’ Finallymadeit finished a game second by a half-length behind Albertus Maximus in the Donn Handicap (G1) on Jan. 31.

How’s Your Halo is a 6-year-old son of Halo’s Image and posted a big upset in the seven-furlong Richter Scale Stakes (G2) here in his last start on Feb. 14 and is very effective on his best days at any level. He finished a game second to Eclipse champion sprinter Benny the Bull last summer at Calder in the Smile Sprint Handicap (G2).

Bribon is a 6-year-old French-bred gelding by Mark of Esteem trained by Bobby Ribuado and was a six-length allowance winner going one mile here on Feb. 12. He ran a big race in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct in late November to finish third, beaten less than a length for it all.

Formidable bids to give Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens his third victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, following Sensitive Prince in 1979 and Devil His Due in 1993. A 4-year-old homebred by Sky Mesa, Formidable makes his stakes debut after two impressive victories at the meet to break his maiden by 4 ½ lengths and an allowance by 5 ½ lengths after three tries last year in New York.

Finallymadeit makes his fifth start this year for trainer Javier Negrete after 15 outings last year at age 4 and 19 as a 3-year-old in 2007. The homebred son of Concerto ran the race of his life in the Donn at 30-to-1, but faded to ninth of 10 last out in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) trying 11 furlongs on turf last out on Feb. 21.

Duke of Homberg will likely be favored in the Palm Beach with Chris DeCarlo to ride for trainer Tom Albertrani. The son of Dynaformer was impressive winning the Hallandale Beach Stakes over the course on Feb. 14. He began his career with two starts in France last year and may emerge among the leaders of his division with another victory Saturday.

Dogwood Stable’s Lime Rickey and G. Watts Humphrey, Jr.’s El Crespo look like the main contenders to challenge Duke of Homberg with jockeys Cornelio Velasquez and Javier Castellano in the saddle, respectively.

Lime Rickey was a game second behind Duke of Homberg in the Hallandale Beach, beaten 1 ¼ lengths with trouble in the race. Trained by Frank Alexander, the son of Lemon Drop Kid just missed in his previous start when second in the Dania Beach Stakes when Duke of Homberg finished fifth with trouble in that race.

El Crespo goes back to turf after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) on the main track on Jan. 31. Trained by Rusty Arnold, the homebred son of A.P. Indy broke his maiden over the Gulfstream course in his previous start on Jan. 10.

Completing the field for the Palm Beach are Jacks or Better Farm’s Sweetlandofliberty, Manoel Cruz; Darley Stable’s Stomalory, Rene Douglas; Terry Hamilton’s Casey’s On Call, Cornelio Velasquez; and Char-Mari Stable’s Beacon Hill Road, Jose Lezcano.

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