HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Gulfstream's Championship Meet has historically been a proving ground for youngsters from the nation's leading stables. Last winter, the speedy Verrazano was a stylish debut winner for trainer Todd Pletcher on New Year's Day, while eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb started his rise to prominence for trainer Shug McGaughey in a first-level allowance on January 26. That day's card also featured another future star in Close Hatches, who aired in her unveiling for trainer Bill Mott and is a likely Eclipse Award finalist as champion 3-year-old filly.
In the first race, Mott will saddle Miss Besilu, who at $2.6 million ranked as the nation's most expensive weanling of 2011 when she sold at Keeneland as part of the Edward P. Evans dispersal. The attractive daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, as well as graded stakes winners Quiet Giant and Congressionalhonor. She didn't quite live up to that purple pedigree in her career debut at Aqueduct on October 27, fading to finish a non-threatening sixth going a flat mile on the dirt. However, the top two fillies in that maiden, Penwith and Got Lucky, went on to be involved in the blanket finish of the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes last Saturday, and Miss Besilu has several sprightly morning drills since arriving at Payson Park.
"I think she's a little better than she ran the first time," Mott offered. "She's been doing well and I'm hoping she goes forward on the grass. She has a very good pedigree, and she's moved well over the grass when we galloped her on it. We'll see. We just want to compare the two races and are hoping to see some improvement in her second start."
Miss Besilu will break from the six hole with Jose Lezcano in the irons. She is listed at 10-1 on the morning line in the 1 1/16-miles contest.
Saturday's second race has another seven-figure runner in Gala Award, who attracted a winning bid of $1.55 million as a yearling from Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier. The Bernardini colt is out of Wilshewed, making him a half-brother to Grade I winner Stormello and My Best Brother, a solid turf performer whose wins include the 2012 Grade II Del Mar Derby. Gala Award has breezed on the grass several times for trainer Todd Pletcher, who hits at 30 percent with his juveniles.
"He’s been training well and seemed to improve when we put him on the turf," Pletcher remarked. "Being by Bernardini, he figures to be a two-turn horse."
Gala Award is part of a full field of 14 and two also-eligibles, and will also have to contend with stablemate Global Strike. The two colts breezed in company and earned bullets for their half-mile drill from the gate at Palm Meadows on November 26, when they were timed in :48 flat and were the fastest of 35 horses working that morning. Global Strike, a homebred for Stonestreet Stables, is by Smart Strike out of Misty Lady, a Group 1 winner in Argentina.
"It's a similar situation with [Global Strike]," Pletcher added. "His pedigree also suggests going long."
Pletcher, who has won the last 10 training titles at this meeting, was philosophical about pitting two promising colts against one another so early in their careers. "I don’t really like running them against one another, but they’re both ready," he explained. "And you never know with these turf races—you don’t always draw in."
Gala Award will have the services of Joe Bravo and is 6-1 in the program. He has drawn post six, while Global Strike has the eight hole and will be ridden by jockey Javier Castellano. He is 4-1 on the morning line.