Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ice Box Fires ‘Bullet’ Half-Mile for Florida Derby

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL (Sat., Mar. 13, 2010) – Robert LaPenta’s 3-year-old Ice Box drilled a ‘bullet’ half-mile in 47 1/5 Saturday morning at Palm Meadows for trainer Nick Zito as he tunes up for his engagement in next Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, bidding to improve on his fifth-place finish last out in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) over the track and 1 1/8 miles distance on Feb. 20.

A son of 1997 Florida Derby runner-up Pulpit, Ice Box was ‘off a bit slow’ in the Fountain of Youth, according to Equibase comments and was never a threat, beaten 12 lengths by Eskendereya, who won by 8 ½ lengths over Zito-trained Jackson Bend. Ice Box had raced much closer to the pace when winning a 1 1/8 miles allowance test over the track on Jan. 18 in his 3-year-old debut.

“He’s an up and coming horse,” said Zito Friday afternoon of the $125,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase. “He likes the surface and won a ‘one other than’ (allowance) and was very impressive doing it. Every time you win an allowance race (at Gulfstream) you know you’re racing with the best horses in the country.

“In regards to the Fountain of Youth, he finished a respectable fifth. He made a good move. I think he’s going to be a lot closer that people think (early in the Florida Derby). I know we have to beat Eskendereya.”

Zito had another promising 3-year-old on Saturday morning’s Palm Meadows work tab as Richard Pell’s Fly Down was timed a sharp half-mile in 48 flat. The chestnut son of Mineshaft has won his last two of three career starts, most recently a 1 1/8 miles allowance over the Gulfstream track on Feb. 21 in his 3-year-old debut and is eligible for the Florida Derby.

Zayat Stable’s Eskendereya leads the list of probable/possible starters for the 59th edition of the Florida Derby. Others in addition to Ice Box include Flying Zee Stables and partners’ Pulsion, IEAH Stables and partners’ Radiohead, WinStar Farm’s Rule, Ol Memorial Stables and C.E. Glasscock’s Soaring Empire, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, Donald Dizney’s First Dude and Kuehne Stable’s Game On Dude.

Castellano & Pletcher Lead Gulfstream Standings into Weekend

Jockey Javier Castellano and trainer Todd Pletcher maintained their leads in the Gulfstream Park standings this week going into Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) card, and 17-year-old apprentice jockey Luis Saez gets back in the saddle after being sidelined with a shoulder injury in early February.

Castellano leads the jockey standings with 41 victories, two more than John Velazquez second with 39 wins and Julien Leparoux third with 35. Castellano and Velazquez ride here Saturday, but Leparoux headed west for the mount on WinStar Farm’s 3-year-old American Lion for trainer Eoin Harty in the $150,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.

Jockey Rajiv Maragh ranks in a tie for fourth in the Gulfstream standings with Elvis Trujillo at 33 tallies apiece, but Maragh also is on the road Saturday as he rides Padua Stable’s 3-year-old Odysseus for trainer Tom Albertrani in the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

A native of Panama, Saez burst on the scene at Calder last year to make a big impression with fans and horsemen, finishing third behind veterans Eibar Coa and Manoel Cruz in the standings for the highly-competitive Tropical-at-Calder meet and gaining national recognition as an Eclipse Award finalist.

Saez got off to a slow start during the first month of the Gulfstream meet with just three wins from 86 mounts, but suffered a shoulder injury in a morning training accident at Calder on Feb. 2. He returns Saturday named on five mounts.

Todd Pletcher holds a big lead on the trainers’ leader board as he bids for a seventh straight Gulfstream meet championship after sending out 25 winners, 11 more than closest rival Nick Zito second with 14. Nine-time Gulfstream titlist Bill Mott ranks third with 12 wins, followed by Rick Dutrow at 11 and four others tied for fifth at nine each.

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