Sky Diva Works Toward 3-year-old Debut at Gulfstream

A diva’s got to have her space. That’s the reason Puglisi Racing’s Grade 1-winning 3-year-old filly Sky Diva is warming up in South Florida and is not part of trainer Steve Klesaris’s main string in New Orleans this winter.

The daughter of Sky Mesa has been training steadily at Gulfstream Park, including a five-furlong breeze Friday morning in 1:01 1/5. She has been ramping up toward a 3-year-old debut following third-place finishes in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct on Nov. 29 and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.

“We decided to ship her back here because the track is so much wider (that at the Fair Grounds),” said Lillian Klesaris, wife and assistant to Steve Klesaris, who has just four horses at Gulfstream this year. “You’ve got the huge chute there and there are plenty of places to take her on a long walk. So far, knock wood, it’s really worked out well for her.”

Sky Diva won the Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park last fall before her two third-place finishes to close her 2-year-old campaign. She got two months to relax at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland before being diverted to Gulfstream last month. Friday’s drill was her fourth since getting back to work on Feb. 15.

“Her last work was a little quick, but she had a rider on her,” Lillian Klesaris said referring to the filly’s half-mile drill in 46 on Feb. 27 under jockey Alan Garcia. “Today, we wanted to stretch her out, take her off the bridle a little bit and let her settle into it. It was very laid back and relaxed.”

With the ultimate goal of making the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 1, how laid back and relaxed Sky Diva acts in the next workout will determine how she starts her campaign. The next race in the division at Gulfstream is the $200,000 Bonnie Miss (G2) at 1 1/8 miles on Fri., Mar. 27. Klesaris isn’t ready to commit one way or the other as yet.

“It’s going to be up to her,” she said. “She will dictate to us with how aggressive she is and how much she responds. It’s crucial that she continues to relax as we stretch her out. She’s telling us she wants to go forward. It’s hard to say if she will be ready to go a mile-and-an-eighth off this layoff, but she will tell us if she wants to go on. So far she’s been telling us ‘Yes.’”

Gulfstream Park Handicap Leads Four Graded Stakes Next Weekend

The $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), to be run Saturday at one mile for the first time in its 65-year history, will highlight next weekend’s stakes action at Gulfstream Park. Also on tap are renewals of the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (G3) that afternoon and the $150,000 Inside Information Stakes (G3) and $150,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3) on Sunday.

The historic Gulfstream Park Handicap was run at 1¼ miles for decades with such notable winners as Coaltown, Sailor, Bardstown, Round Table, Bald Eagle, Kelso, Gun Bow, Executioner, Forego, Bowl Game, Sensitive Prince, Private Account and Skip Away. It was run at 1 3/16 miles the last four years when its winners included Corinthian.

Prominent in the field taking shape for this year’s renewal are Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man, Mount Joy Stable’s Smooth Air, Robert Clay’s Formidable, Marc Keller’s Bribon and Brian Prichard’s How’s Your Halo.

The connections of 4-year-old Cool Coal Man had high hopes for him as a Kentucky Derby (G1) and Triple Crown prospect this time last year when he captured the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He subsequently disappointed when finishing ninth in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and 15th behind Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Nick Zito.

A son of Mineshaft, Cool Coal Man finished third behind Big Brown in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park in August, but disappointed again in two more starts last season when 11th in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and fifth in the Jerome Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park to complete his campaign. Cool Coal Man has come back on top of his game this meet with an impressive allowance score on Jan. 28.

Smooth Air is a 4-year-old homebred trained by Bennie Stutts Jr. He also traveled down the Kentucky Derby trail last year, winning the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and finishing second in the Florida Derby (G1) behind Big Brown here and 11th in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs with a troubled trip.

A son of Smooth Jazz, Smooth Air went on to win the Ohio Derby (G2) at Thistledown and ran a big race to finish seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, beaten only 5¼ lengths by the winner, Raven’s Pass. Smooth Air tuned up for the Gulfstream Park Handicap with a runner-up effort in the Tallahassee Stakes at a mile on turf on Feb. 7.

The Palm Beach on Saturday is for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf . Its recent winners include then-emerging stars Kitten’s Joy in 2004 and Go Between in 2006. Trainer Todd Pletcher has four of the 16 nominees to this year’s 23rd edition, including James Scatuorchio and John Iracane’s Bittel Road.

A son of Stormy Atlantic, Bittel Road is an intriguing prospect who won the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga and Bourbon County (G3) at Keeneland before checking in eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. He bounced back to be second in the Generous Stakes (G3) on turf at Hollywood Park in late November.

Bittel Road remained with Pletcher’s Santa Anita-based division and has made his last two starts on synthetic tracks, finishing fourth in the Cash Call Futurity (G1) on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park in December and fourth behind Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert Lewis Stakes (G2) on the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita last out on Feb. 7.

A leading candidate for the Palm Beach is Padua Stable’s English-bred Duke of Homberg, impressive winner of the Hallandale Beach Stakes over the course on Feb. 7 for trainer Tom Albertrani. The son of Dynaformer had finished fifth with a rough trip in the Dania Beach Stakes in January.

The Inside Information on Sunday, formerly known as the Shirley Jones Handicap, is for fillies and mares at seven furlongs and promises an exciting third matchup of the meet in graded stakes between Joseph V. Shields Jr.’s 6-year-old mare Any Limit and Zabeel Racing International’s 4-year-old filly Game Face.

Game Face is a highly-consistent daughter of Menifee trained by Todd Pletcher. She won the first round of the rivalry, scoring by 2¼ lengths over Any Limit in the First Lady (G3) on Jan. 18 to run her record to 10-5-3-2 for earnings of nearly $400,000.

Any Limit is a Kentucky homebred daughter of Limit Out trained by Allen Jerkens. She reversed the First Lady result, capturing the Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G3) last out on Feb. 15 by 1¼ lengths over Game Face. Any Limit also won the Hurricane Bertie in 2007 and two Grade 2 stakes in New York last year.

The Herecomesthebride is the 3-year-old filly companion event to the Palm Beach, also run at 1 1/8 miles on turf with a trio of promising prospects nominated by leading trainer Ken McPeek, including Stevestan Stables’ Striking Dancer, a confirmed starter after an impressive allowance score over the course in her season debut.

Dunkirk Back to Work for Florida Derby

Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s emerging 3-year-old star Dunkirk drilled a half-mile in 48 3/5 at Palm Meadows Friday morning for trainer Todd Pletcher in his first workout since a very impressive allowance victory going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 19.

The imposing roan/gray colt by Unbridled’s Song out of Secret Status was a $3.7 million Keeneland September yearling purchase that has looked worth the price after two brilliant victories at the meet. He won his seven-furlong career debut by 5¾ lengths on Jan. 24 followed by the nine-furlong allowance by 4¾ lengths that featured Eclipse Award-winner Garrett Gomez in from California for the mount that afternoon.

Pletcher indicated after that victory that Dunkirk would most likely make his third start in the $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) over the same distance on Sat., Mar. 28 as a final prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1), following the successful routes taken by Barbaro (2006) and Big Brown (2008) in recent years.