HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Brazilian import Ana Luisa will have plenty of company when she makes her first start on American soil in Sunday’s $100,000 South Beach at Gulfstream Park.
“We haven’t run her before, and we’re trying to get to know her,” Pletcher said. “Right now, we’re just trying to find some opportunities.”
Ana Luisa, who will be running on Lasix for the first time in the South Beach, won the first three starts of her career earlier this year for previous trainer Paulo Lobo. After breaking her maiden in February, she claimed the Group 3 Emerald Hill on dirt and Group 2 Pres. Guilherme Ellis on turf by 5 ½ combined lengths.
The Ellis, like the South Beach, was run at 7 ½ furlongs on the grass. Her South American campaign earned Ana Luisa champion 2-year-old filly honors from the Brazilian Jockey Club for 2012-13.
“She’s been training well on both surfaces, and it looks like she’s had success in Brazil on turf and dirt,” Pletcher said. “We’re just kind of looking for the correct distance to bring her back. Seven and a half [furlongs] seems like a logical in-between distance to get her going.”
Based with Pletcher at Palm Meadows, Ana Luisa has prepped for her debut with a string of steady works since mid-October, most recently going four furlongs in 51.10 seconds on Dec. 9.
Bred by Stud TNT on their 2,100-acre complex in southern Brazil near the border of Uruguay, Ana Luisa is the first group stakes winner from her sire Elusive Quality’s first crop in Brazil.
She is one of a handful of Brazilian horses Pletcher has taken on from Stud TNT, along with Viva Rafaela, whose first win in three North American starts came at Gulfstream on Nov. 11, also on grass, and Vitoria Olimpica, winner of the Alydar Stakes this summer at Saratoga and fourth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park, both on dirt.
Pletcher said there are unique challenges in acclimating horses from South America.
“It’s kind of an ongoing process,” he said. “We generally send them up to my dad’s farm in Ocala to begin with, and they get some time there to get used to training with a saddle on every day. From our experience, it takes them anywhere from six months to a year to get them fully acclimated. It seems like the longer they’re here, the more they improve.
“The climate here is similar to what they’re used to, but they’re on a different cycle. When it’s summer here it’s winter there, and I think it takes them a little while to adjust to that. Plus most of them are born later in the year after September, and then they’re competing against older horses here. It's a combination of maturity and acclimation and mainly just time that helps them.”
Joel Rosario will ride Ana Luisa, who is second choice on the morning line at 4-1.
The 3-1 program favorite for the South Beach is Baffle Me, a 4-year-old daughter of First Samurai who will break from just inside Ana Luisa in post six under jockey Javier Castellano.
Baffle Me takes a two-race win streak into the South Beach, taking a pair of seven-furlong turf stakes at Belmont Park for trainer Mark Hennig. She has also been second in a pair of longer grass stakes this year, including a neck loss to Grade 1 winner Samitar in the $100,000 Speed Boat at Saratoga in September.
“She’s had a good fall,” Hennig said. “She just keeps maturing. She’s always been a little bit of a high-strung filly, but as she’s gotten older she’s learned to mature and deal with it a little better, or we have.”
Owned by Lee Lewis, Baffle Me ran in three optional claiming allowances at Gulfstream earlier this year, with a third, a second and a win, the latter two each at one mile.
“We got her down here in time to acclimate for this,” Hennig said. “She loves Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. I think Gulfstream is actually one of her favorite turf courses. She’s pretty darn consistent. You can count on her to show up when you bring her over there.”
Making her third start since being switched to turf by trainer Jimmy Toner, Moment in Dixie ran second to Baffle Me in her grass debut in September. Most recently, she was third in a stakes at Aqueduct behind a pair of next-out winners in Deanaallen’skitten, who came back to wear the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream on Dec. 7, and Sally’s Dream.
Also in the field are multiple stakes winners Silverette and Florida-bred Nikki Starshine, as well as Angel’s South, a winner of two straight who is making her debut for new trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia.