HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Kelly Breen has a 22-percent strike rate with his first-time starters, but there wasn’t much money coming in on Shogun Samurai, who drifted up to 15-1 when unveiled in Friday’s featured seventh race at Gulfstream. Favored in the 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight for 2-year-old fillies was 4-5 Lucky for You from the Todd Pletcher barn, and the $675,000 purchase Spring Blossom also attracted support at 5-1.
“She surprised us,” Breen admitted. “She seemed to break alertly—she’s done that in the morning, but you’re never sure. We’re just happy she ran as big as she did.”
The patient approach has been the key for Shogun Samurai, according to Breen.
“We took the slow road getting her to the races and I’m happy to say it paid off, because it doesn’t always work out that way,” Breen added. “We took our time with her and everything worked great.”
Luis the Snowbird
Leading Woodbine rider Luis Contreras has just begun his third winter sojourn at Gulfstream Park. A native of Mexico City, the 27-year-old reinsman began his riding career in Mexico before moving his tack to northern California. He arrived at Woodbine four years ago and swiftly moved up the ranks, taking the riding title at the Ontario oval in each of the last three seasons.
The “winter” weather is especially attractive, he said.
“Right now? I’m very happy to be here,” Contreras quipped. “The last time I rode [at Woodbine on December 11] it was at night, and it was something like minus 14 [degrees]. It was very cold.”
In 2011, Contreras became the first rider to win all three races of the Canadian Triple Crown—the Queen’s Plate, the Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders’ Stakes—with two different horses. He booted home Pender Harbour in the latter two events, and piloted the filly Inglorious to beat the boys in the Queen’s Plate that summer.
“Winning the Queen’s Plate with Inglorious was a tremendous feeling,” Contreras remarked. “But I enjoy winning every race.”
After his stint at Golden Gate Fields in California, Contreras made his way to Woodbine with the help of trainer Steve Asmussen, and later forged his own reputation.
“I was under contract to Steve Asmussen,” Contreras explained. “After Asmussen stopped sending horses there, I was going to come back to the States, but a lot of trainers and owners and my agent [Tony Esposito], they helped me a lot and supported me.”
Contreras has a friend here in trainer Tino Attard, for whom he rode Wonderfully in Friday’s fourth race. Sent off at 10-1, the chestnut mare was making her first start on traditional dirt after 22 outings on the Polytrack at Woodbine. She finished second, beaten just a half-length.
“Tino Attard—he’s one of the guys that have helped me a lot,” Contreras noted. “I’m happy that he gives me the opportunity to ride his horses here.”
Contreras, who won the Orchid Handicap (G3) last year aboard Regalo Mio, noted that there are differences between riding on the synthetic surfaces versus dirt.
“I like the Poly because I don’t get dirty,” Contreras joked. “But it is a little different. If you’re coming from behind, you don’t get that much dirt on your face. If it’s a six or 6 ½-furlong race you can go to the lead and you’ll have a lot of horse all the way. But if it’s longer—a mile, a mile and a sixteenth—a lot of horses get tired towards the end, even if you have a slow pace.”
Rainbow 6 Carryover: $85,061.20