The 26-year-old native of Sweden is one of three finalists for the Eclipse champion apprentice award to be announced at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. Karlsson led the standings at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago at their recently concluded meet.
Karlsson is self-effacing and pragmatic about working at Gulfstream and sharing a locker room filled with current and future Hall of Famers like Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux and John Velazquez. She’s hoping to pick up some business before Hawthorne re-opens in March while gaining experience in the tough company.
“I’ve got a long ways to go, but if you’re going to learn how to ride, this is the place to be,” she said. “These are the best riders in the world and it’s a completely different ballgame down here.”
Karlsson says she’s already been well received by her fellow riders and is prepared to raise her game to another level after leading the nation in apprentice earnings in 2008.
“Everybody has been very nice and has talked to me about what to expect,” she said. “But I know how tough this is. Some places I can go in a race and follow a guy on the inside when I know he’s going to drift and open the rail. There are no guys like that here. That rail isn’t going to open every time.”
Opportunities in racing have readily opened for Karlsson in a world where females often have more barriers in front of them. She says it has actually been easier to advance in racing as opposed her original sport, amateur boxing.
She was successful in Sweden before immigrating to Canada and catching on at Woodbine in Toronto as an exercise rider. Boxing was her hobby, but when she moved to New York her hobby had to take a backseat.
“The only gym I could find was in this basement-type place in New York City,” she said. “I go walking in there in my little shorts and blonde hair and 20 guys all just stop what they’re doing. The guy in charge says ‘You can’t train here.’ I ended up arguing with the guy for a half-hour and going over his head to get permission. but he still refused to work with me. I ended up having to train myself and it wasn’t worth the aggravation.”
Karlsson is a wisecracker and isn’t making a big deal about playing dress-up for the Eclipse Awards. She says she’s excited to be going and picked out a dress by a Swedish designer, but isn’t expecting to drop jaws.
“I tried the dress on the other day and looked in the mirror and I think I look like a man in a dress,” she joked. “Actually, everybody will like the dress. It’s classy, but sexy.”
Einstein Targeted for Donn Handicap
Midnight Cry Stables’ Einstein, a two-time winner of the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1), won’t go for the three-peat in that race, but will challenge the other Grade 1 race that weekend, the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) on Gulfstream Park’s main track on Sat., Jan. 31.
The 6-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Spend a Buck finished sixth in the Donn last year behind Spring At Last before returning three weeks later to win the Gulfstream Park Turf. He had won that race in 2006 and finished third in 2007.
This year that race has been moved to Feb. 1, precluding an attempt at both. Einstein earned a graded-stakes victory on dirt in the Clark Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 in his last start, and trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi will point to Gulfstream’s premier race for older horses knowing it will be a tough challenge.
“The dirt situation with him isn’t so much that he can run on either surface,” she said Sunday morning after breezing Einstein an easy five furlongs in 1:03 over the main track at Gulfstream.
“He loves Churchill Downs. He skips over that track. It’s a different kind of surface down here. It’s sandier and deeper and he doesn’t get over it as well. It will be a challenge.”
Pitts-Blasi said Einstein would be nominated to both races just in case plans change. She realizes the cache that would come from being a Grade 1 winner on two surfaces – not to mention the increase in the horse’s value as a stallion. Regardless of the outcome, she’s proud of what Einstein has already accomplished.
“He’s 6 years old and still sound, thanks largely to running on the turf most of his life,” said Pitts-Blasi. “Grass racing has been much easier on him. The win in the Clark already helps him as a stallion. He’s proven himself and proven what he is: a sound, hard-running horse.”
Pitts-Blasi may be best known for saddling future 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin for his smashing career debut at Gulfstream early that season. After a majority interest was sold to Jess Jackson and partners, the horse was transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen. There are no 3-year-olds at Curlin-level in the barn this year, Pitts-Blasi says.
“Most of my 3-year-olds are all a little behind the eight-ball,” she said. “I’ve got a couple Unbridled’s Song colts and a couple nice fillies. They’ve taken their time coming around.”
One of those Unbridled’s Song colts is Booksense, a half-brother to stakes winners Hurricane Bertie and Allamerican Bertie. He has yet to post a workout this winter.
Mambo Meister Gets Another Chance in Wednesday Feature
Quantum Racing Team’s 4-year-old Mambo Meister had a nightmare trip last out when sixth in the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 10, beaten only a length in a wild finish, but gets another chance as one of the likely choices in Wednesday’s one-mile optional/allowance feature on turf.
Jockey Rene Douglas gets a return call on Mambo Meister for trainer Phil Gleaves in a field of 11. Equibase footnotes of the Fort Lauderdale read in part that Mambo Meister was “reserved after being steadied at the start, steadied again entering the first turn…and was gaining at the end.”
A Florida homebred by King Cugat, Mambo Meister was the second choice in the Fort Lauderdale after a very impressive optional/allowance victory over the Calder turf course on Nov. 21 in his first start since a disappointing effort when seventh in the Super Derby (G2) at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 20.
A solid contender in the field returning from a layoff in Wednesday’s race is Isaac Muhtar’s 4-year-old Florida homebred Fearless Eagle with Kent Desormeaux aboard for trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. The son of Invisible Ink makes his first start since capturing the Jackie Wackie overnight stakes at Calder on May 3. He scored his biggest victory in the Pete Axthelm Stakes last in 2007.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out James Scatuorchio’s 7-year-old veteran Ruff and Ready with John R. Velazquez in his first start since a good fourth-place effort in the Oceanport Handicap (G3) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3 won by Silver Tree. A son of More Than Ready, Ruff and Ready won both of his starts over the Gulfstream course last year.
An intriguing prospect entered in the race is Robert LaPenta’s 4-year-old Cool Coal Man, who was entered ‘main track only’ by trainer Nick Zito with Desormeaux named to ride if the race is forced off turf. The son of Mineshaft won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) here last year and finished fifth last out in the Jerome Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park on Oct. 5.
Completing the field for the race are Stuart Janney III’s Minister’s Joy, Sharon Simms’ Archers Dancer, Michael Bruder’s Hyracotherium, Joel Sainer’s Fair Weather Stan, Zabeeel Racing International’s Hellvelyn, Dennis Punches’ Jet Propulsion and Stronach Stables’ Sligovitz.
Amazing-Annabill Rematch Set for Distaff at Santa Anita
Marilyn Seltzer’s 4-year-old homebred filly Amazing won the $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff at Calder Race Course on Nov. 8 by a nose over N.T.S. Stable’s 6-year-old mare Annabill in the last start for both, and the rematch appears set for 3,000 miles away next Saturday when they clash again in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita.
“She’s earned her chance,” said trainer Terry Oliver of Amazing Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream Park. “She worked an easy half-mile this morning (51 at Calder) just for maintenance. Elvis (Trujillo) will ride her.
“When they canceled the final stakes for her at Calder (the G3 Stage Door Betty Handicap on Dec. 27), she worked a strong mile in 1:42 3/5 (Dec. 23) instead, and she got what she needed out of it. A mile work like that over that track is like having a race. I don’t know if she’ll handle the Pro-Ride surface out there, but we have to give her a chance.”
Amazing is a daughter of Greatness who didn’t race as a 2-year-old and found her best stride late last year winning an allowance race by 12¾ lengths in mid-September and the Sunny Issues overnight stakes in October before her biggest victory in the nine-furlong Elmer Heubeck.
Amazing and Annabill will travel with the rest of the Florida-trained contingent on a Tex Sutton Forwarding charter flight Tuesday morning. Trujillo will also ride Patricia Generazio’s 6-year-old Presious Passion in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for trainer Mary Hartmann.