Presious Passion Ready for Pan Am Defense

Patricia Generazio’s Presious Passion needed three starts at Gulfstream Park to warm up and score one of his biggest career victories in last year’s Pan American Handicap (G3), but he’s needed less time to reach his peak this year as he enters Saturday’s renewal of the $150,000, 1½-mile turf contest ready to defend his crown.

The 6-year-old gelded son of Royal Anthem exits a determined front-running victory in the 11-furlong Mac Diarmida (G2) on Feb. 21 after he built a seven-length lead and held on for a half-length win.

The Florida-bred is sitting on the best form of his career since his victory in the Pan American last year. He went on to win the United Nations Handicap (G1) in July at Monmouth Park and the W. L. McKnight Handicap (G2) at Calder for the second time on Dec. 13.

The disappointments in between came largely because of wet tracks. Presious Passion has caught ‘good’ or ‘yielding’ turf courses or ‘sloppy’ tracks in six of his starts since last year’s Pan American. That trend has trainer Mary Hartmann thinking she and her horse have the power to make it rain.

“As soon as I entered, it started to pour here,” joked Hartmann Wednesday morning from her Gulfstream Park barn after entering her stable star in the Pan American. Indeed, Hallandale Beach saw its first significant precipitation in four months.

Despite the weather, Hartmann says Presious Passion is still ready to go.

“We’re still on target,” said Hartmann. “I think the weather will clear up, and with it as dry as it has been, and with the way this course drains so well, things will be fine. Plus, he can handle it if it’s a little yielding. The only thing he can’t handle is if it’s a total bog.”

Hartmann says her charge has been “super” since his last race and that jockey Elvis Trujillo will be back aboard. Since reuniting with the gelding for the McKnight three months ago, Trujillo and Presious Passion have won twice and finished a close second in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 24.

Davona Dale Winner Justwhistledixie Favored in Kentucky Oaks Future Wagering

West Point Thoroughbreds and partners’ 3-year-old filly Justwhistledixie was very impressive winning the $150,000 Davona Dales Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Mar. 1 by 3¾ lengths for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after sweeping her three previous starts in New York.

The eye-catching performance in the one-mile Davona Dale obviously left a big impression with horseplayers as Justwhistledixie was established as the 5-2 favorite in Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Oaks (G1) Future Wager Pool, which closed on Sunday.

Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) Saturday, was second choice at 3-1, and 2008 Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly and Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner Stardom Bound was third choice at 9-2.

A $425,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Justwhistledixie is expected to make her next start in the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream going 1 1/8 miles on Fri., Mar. 27 as a final tune-up for the Kentucky Oaks on Fri., May 1.

Gulfstream Title Races Remain Wide-Open

The 2009 Gulfstream Park title chases for leading jockeys and trainers continue to be very competitive with Julien Leparoux beginning this week’s action on top of the rider standings with 40 winners, two more than Kent Desormeaux and Jose Lezcano, who are tied for second.

None of the top three have won a Gulfstream championship previously. John R. Velazquez, a two-time winner, remains in striking distance in fourth with 37 wins. Alan Garcia ranks fifth with 35 tallies in his first full season here.

Ken McPeek has led the trainers’ standings since early in the session, but his lead is down to just one over Todd Pletcher (22-21), who is picking up momentum in his bid for a sixth straight title here.

After the top two, Nick Zito ranks third with 17 wins, followed by Peter Walder fourth with 13. Bill Mott has won the Gulfstream title nine times over the years, most recently in 2002, and is tied for fourth with Wesley Ward with 12 wins apiece.