Gray Gains Foothold at Gulfstream

Two female turf runners are helping trainer Liz Gray make an impact in her first winter with a public stable at Gulfstream Park, with Kamal Fustok’s Leap in the Sun her latest name-maker heading into Sunday’s $100,000 The Very One Stakes (G3).

Last Sunday, Andrew Farm and Frank O’Connor’s Obsequious finished third in the $125,000 Coconut Grove Stakes. It was the 3-year-old daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus’s first stakes-placing and one of the biggest paydays for Gray since she returned to the backstretch last year.

“We were over the moon,” said Gray Thursday morning trackside at Gulfstream. “We’ve been teaching her how to run and she’s getting better each time. She’s still learning.”

Gray, too, is still learning, but despite her status as a rookie, the Alexandria, Va., native already has plenty of experience garnered after 13 years as the assistant to trainer Dale Romans. Her first job galloping horses was for the late Paul Fout in her home state, but after years of racing at the highest levels, Gray says she needed a change two years ago.

“I was burned out and it wasn’t fun anymore,” she said. She took a job as a manager at Buckland Farm but quickly felt the pull back to the track. “I was ready to go into doggie day care – anything to work with animals, but then I realized I couldn’t stay inside. I’m glad I came back.”

Now among the eight runners she has at the track, and the dozen or so more on the farm, is Leap in the Sun, a 5-year-old daughter of Anees who finished a troubled fourth in a strong allowance race here on Jan. 30.

“The distance will suit her and she’s training well,” said Gray regarding the 1 3/8-mile The Very One. “She’s always run against good horses. She just hasn’t been getting all the way to the top. In her last race she checked on both turns and she worked good over the course Sunday. She’s doing great.”

Leap in the Sun was sent to Gray in December when trainer Allen Iwinski decided to stay north this winter. She was fourth in the Orchid Handicap (G3) on this course last year and third at Calder in the Mairzy Doates Handicap, both long-distance turf tests.

“She got a nice vacation at the owner’s farm and she came out of her last race really strong,” said Gray. “I would think she’s going to love the firm ground here right now and she’s had a great winter.”

It’s a Bird Kept on Edge for New Orleans Handicap

Edmund Gann’s 6-year-old It’s a Bird breezed a half-mile in 49 3/5 Thursday morning at Calder Race Course in his second workout since his stunning 5½-length victory in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24.

“He’s going to New Orleans for the race on Mar. 14 and Ikigai will go along to run in a six-furlong stakes that day, too,” said trainer Marty Wolfson Thursday morning. “(Julien) Leparoux will be there that day for other mounts, so he’ll be able to ride both of them.”

It’s a Bird runs in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles and Ikigai goes in the $125,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at six furlongs: Both races support the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) card that afternoon.

Leparoux was aboard It’s a Bird in the Sunshine Millions for the first time as the Birdonthewire horse broke a three-race losing streak after his last win coming in the Spend a Buck Handicap (G3) at Calder on Oct. 18. It’s a Bird and Ikigai were placed with Wolfson at Calder last summer after campaigning in the mid-west.

Ikigai is a 4-year-old son of Whywhywhy and finished a game second, a half-length behind longshot How’s Your Halo in the seven-furlong Richter Scale Stakes (G2) here last Saturday after an impressive victory in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) on Jan. 17.

Velazquez & Velasquez to Saudi Arabia Thursday & Friday

Gulfstream Park-based jockeys John R. Velazquez and Cornelio Velasquez are out of town Thursday and Friday to accept mounts in the annual renewal of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup run in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before returning to Gulfstream for the weekend.

Kent Desormeaux continues to hold the lead in the Gulfstream standings with 30 victories through Wednesday, two more than Julien Leparoux second with 28, followed by Jose Lezcano third at 25 and Alan Garcia fourth with 24 tallies.

Edgar Prado ranks fifth with 22 and Velasquez and Eibar Coa are tied for sixth with 21 apiece. Velazquez is eighth with 20 wins.

Garcia Preparing for Globetrotting Couple of Weeks

Jockey Alan Garcia will be piling up the frequent flier miles in the coming weeks with out-of-town trips to Dubai and New York cutting into the strong rookie season he’s started at Gulfstream Park this winter.

The 23-year-old native of Peru has established himself among the nation’s riding elite with last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1) victory on Da’ Tara and the Donn Handicap (G1) here on Jan. 30 aboard Albertus Maximus.

Garcia will head to the Middle East to gallop and ride Albertus Maximus for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on the Mar. 5 card at Nad al Sheba as a prelude to the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on Mar. 28.

“They call it ‘Spectacular Thursday’ and they really want me to get a feel for the course,” said Garcia, who has been among the Top 5 jockeys at Gulfstream throughout this season.

“I know it will take me away from here, but it’s my first year and being the leading rider was probably asking a lot. I’m glad to have had the meet that I’ve had and get established.”

Garcia will head to New York following his Dubai trip where he expects to have a mount in the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on Mar. 7. He will return to Gulfstream Park after the Gotham and will ride here before returning to Dubai March 22.