Jerkens Poses ‘Formidable’ Challenge to Gulfstream Park Handicap

With a challenger threatening to match one of his own training feats, Hall of Fame horseman Allen Jerkens will send Robert Clay’s 4-year-old emerging star Formidable into the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) on Sat. Mar. 14.

A son of Sky Mesa, Formidable will face several graded-stakes performers, including Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man, winner of the 2008 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). The Nick Zito-trained Cool Coal Man bids to become only the second horse to win the Fountain of Youth and Gulfstream Park Handicap. The other was Sensitive Prince – trained by Jerkens – in 1978-79.

Formidable is 2-for-2 at Gulfstream after two open-length victories, breaking his maiden before winning an allowance race, the latter coming on Feb. 13. Jerkens recognizes the Gulfstream Park Handicap will be a stern test.

“We’re going to take a shot,” he said. “There are two schools of thought on whether to run through your conditions or to jump into a stakes. A race like this is like a million-dollar race because of the value it could give the horse (potential stud prospect). For that kind of money you’ve got to take a chance.”

Jerkens had been taking it easy on Formidable since his last race, using long gallops to keep him fit before sending him out for a seven-furlong breeze Tuesday morning at Gulfstream, timed in 1:30 1/5.

The storied Gulfstream Park Handicap, at one-mile this year, will be Formidable’s first stakes attempt and his first going that distance on dirt. The colt finished sixth going a mile on turf at Aqueduct on Nov. 9 before getting a freshening ahead of his breakout performances this winter.

“We will see what happens,” said Jerkens who had concerns about the distance a few weeks ago. “Just because we want him to be a distance horse doesn’t mean he’s going to be one.”

When told of the attempt Cool Coal Man will be making to duplicate Sensitive Prince, Jerkens easily rattles off some of the similarities his current charge has to the star he trained for Joseph Taub.

“Sensitive Prince was undefeated at Gulfstream,” he points out. “He won the Hutcheson, an allowance race, the Fountain of Youth and the Gulfstream Park Handicap. He was a big tough horse. He was tough to gallop, but other than that, he was a very nice horse to work with. He won 14 of 20 starts and he broke down in the Michigan Mile at the sixteenth-pole, and still managed to win.”

Formidable has gotten considerably different preparation for this year’s Gulfstream Park Handicap than Sensitive Prince or Jerkens’ other winner in the race, Devil His Due in 1991.

“We ran (Sensitive Prince) in a seven-furlong allowance race a week before the Handicap,” he said. “You can’t generalize for all horses. Every horse is different. There’s no good reason why – if you’ve got a horse that was dead fit going into a race, eating well, sound, and it didn’t take hardly anything out of him – you can’t come back quick and run.

“Now, if your horse was in a knock-down, drag-out fight that took everything he had … that’s a different story. My horse is doing good, eating well and ready to go,” he said. “If he stays like that we’re going to take our shot.”

Jerkens also will have an established graded-stakes star in action that weekend when he sends out Joseph V. Shields Jr.’s 6-year-old mare Any Limit as one of the favorites in the $150,000 Inside Information Stakes (G2) going seven furlongs on Sunday (Mar. 15).

The Kentucky homebred daughter of Limit Out won the Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G3) last out on Feb. 15, a race she also won in 2007. Any Limit won a pair of Grade 2 races in New York last summer – the First Flight Handicap at Belmont Park in July and the Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga in August.

Distance, Trip Should Yield Net Present Value Some ‘Sunshine’

Silly Goose Racing Stable’s 4-year-old gelding Net Present Value will get a chance to rebound from two sub-par races this year when he takes on fellow Florida-bred sprinters in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine State Stakes.

Trainer Joe Orseno says there are excuses for the son of Successful Appeal to explain his current four-race losing streak. He will stretch out from six to seven furlongs for the state-bred challenge with Trilogy Stable’s multiple stakes winner Yesbyjimminy likely to be the solid favorite.

“He hasn’t been able to really run his best race in his last couple,” said Orseno. “He didn’t get the best of trips last time and we’ve been hoping to get him seven furlongs. I didn’t think it would come up as tough as it did with Yesbyjimminy in there, but this is what we had been looking for.”

Net Present Value was fourth on Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park in a classy allowance race. Orseno and jockey Carlos Marquez came out of that race feeling optimistic despite the quick turnaround.

“He bounced out of it really well,” said Orseno. “He’s doing good, so I got with Carlos and we figured we should take a chance. It’s good money and the distance we wanted for him. That’s why we are back so quickly.”

Desormeaux & Leparoux Tied for Lead in Gulfstream Standings

Julien Leparoux won the third race Wednesday afternoon at Gulfstream Park to draw into a tie for the lead in the rider standings with Kent Desormeaux at 36 victories apiece, two more than Alan Garcia, third with 34 wins, in a very competitive title chase this season.

Garcia is riding in Dubai today and will be at Aqueduct Saturday for the mount on West Point Thoroughbreds and partners’ 3-year-old Mr. Fantasy for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (G2) before returning to Gulfstream on Sunday.

Leparoux will miss Saturday’s card at Gulfstream in order to ride Midnight Cry Stable’s 6-year-old Einstein for trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

John. R. Velazquez ranks fourth with 31 tallies, followed by Edgar Prado and Jose Lezcano tied for fifth with 29 apiece and Eibar Coa and Cornelio Velasquez tied for seventh with 27 each. Elvis Trujillo won two races Wednesday and is ninth on the leader board with 25.

Coa will join Garcia at Aqueduct Saturday to ride Peachtree Stable’s Marsala in the Gotham and Velazquez and Prado will join Leparoux at Santa Anita to ride Bob and Janice McNair’s Cowboy Cal and Starlight Stable and partners’ Monba, respectively.