HALLANDALE BEACH, FL– Two colleagues texted their takeaways in the aftermath of Gulfstream Park’s 14th race on Saturday.
“Dennis had his moment,” said the first, short and not so sweet. The second was spot on: “Sometimes a jockey can flat out win a race on his own, right?”
The latter reference was to Florent Geroux, a.k.a.”Flo the Jock,” as he is called in some circles. And after what he executed on Saturday, the latter seems more appropriate.
But you’ve got to have the right partner on the dance floor. And so Geroux, and trainer Patrick Biancone, and a Summer Front colt named after a season known as “Indian Summer,” Ete Indien, all did their thing. Viva La France.
More on the most significant Kentucky Derby prep run so far this year a bit later as there were important preludes along the way to the two virtual win-and-in Derby and Kentucky Oaks qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Dennis’ Moment, who has lost as an odds-on to end his freshman year and as a 6-5 favorite for his sophomore debut, will need to go back to the drawing board. Again because, once again, he had an excuse.
“The jock said he grabbed himself,” explained Dale Romans immediately after the race. Known as “grabbing a quarter,” it’s not a serious issue but it can be painful. Sometimes a horse will protect himself with help from his rider.
So that wasn’t the real Dennis’ Moment that finished last of 10. Oh, but it was. “I just hope he’s all right,” said Romans. “That wasn’t what I was expecting. When he didn’t get to the lead early, I was concerned.”
Said rider Flavien Prat: “He bobbled out of the gate… he regrouped and I thought I was in a good spot. When I hit the five-eighths pole he just dropped the bit. After that I was done. There was no reason to beat him up. He didn’t want to go.”
Great Race Riding on Display All Afternoon
As prelude to the Fountain of Youth, riders who made the right tactical decisions and executed them perfectly took down major prizes all day.
When no one wanted the lead in the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes, Paco Lopez seized the moment and took a last-out, coming-from-last-of-10 maiden breaker, Elizabeth Way, put her on the lead in soft fractions over Saturday’s speed-kind course.
A half mile in 48.69 and 1:13.45 for a Frankel filly from a Giant’s Causeway mare trained by legendary Roger Attfield, enabled a solid final clocking of 1:54.26 for a mile and three-sixteenths.
Later on, Kentucky-based Corey Lanerie shipped in and went 2-for-2 for Ken McPeek, and was clearly the difference aboard Harvey Wallbanger, who hadn’t won a race since taking the 2019 Holy Bull Stakes here; he sure loves the inside portion of the Hallandale oval.
Coming from lonesome last, the four year old away seven rivals by getting through on the fence at the far turn in insulting fashion. By the stretch call he was 3-1/2 in front and proceeded to widen from there. Remarkable.
Then Emisael Jaramillo put the G3 Herecomesthebride 11-filly field to sleep from the jump, and Cheemeister did the rest by getting her final sixteenth in a worthy 06.20.
Tonalist’s Shape led throughout from her outside slip going a flat mile beneath a heady Tyler Gaffalione at the direct expense of dozen-length maiden breaker, $1.2 million purchase and Davona Dale favorite Spice Is Nice. Tonalist’s Shape is now 5-for-5 in life and a viable Oaks contender.
Was trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. surprised?
“I told Tyler, ‘Break her out of there and use her to get position.” I thought she’d be fourth or fifth. I didn’t expect her to be on the lead,” said Joseph in the winners’ circle, the victory taking some sting after feeling compelled to scratch Chance It from the Fountain of Youth.
Tonalist’s Shape likely will return for the Gulfstream Park Oaks on the Florida Derby undercard.
Saffie was “shocked” that 12 were entered in the G2 Florida Derby prep and that his colt had drawn #12. Fortunately for Joseph, Tampa Bay Downs, and Chance It’s Derby viability, the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday is at the same 1-1/16 miles.
Chance It will face, among others, Sam F. Davis winner Sole Volante, also trained by Biancone, Kiaran McLaughlin’s recent Gulfstream winner Spa City, and a Todd Pletcher runner to be named later. (McLaughlin will run Sam F. Davis third Ajaaweed in the Louisiana Derby).
Ete Indien was the perfect partner for Geroux. Breaking from post 10, the last minute substitute for sidelined regular partner Luca Panici, Flo the Jock, catching a bit of a flyer, quarter-horsed away from the barrier but, unbelievably, was rating on a kind, 1-1/2-length midway of the first turn.
Furthermore, he continued to rate kindly, a reserved and relaxed leader down the backside in realistic splits of 46.72 and 1:11.30, completing the first-finish-line distance in 1:43.02, getting his final half-furlong in 06.58.
It was a perfect world, as he extended a length and a half lead at the first call, to 4-1/2 by headstretch, en route to an 8-1/2 length romp while drifting a bit at the end. Still, Biancone gave a measured response post race.
“I think he’s an exceptional horse,” said Biancone. “…I want to see how he comes back, how he works the next time. He’ll need to improve a little bit to win the Florida Derby,” before adding he would need to run well there or he could pass on Louisville.
If both Ete Indien and Mr. Monomoy make the Derby, Geroux will have to make a decision. He was high on his praise of Mr. Monomoy but is also impressed with the Biancone runner.
“When he got into a rhythm, he just felt very good,” Geroux explained. “He’s very professional and I didn’t think he was that quick to be honest. I didn’t think he had this kind of speed, which gives us way more options in the future.
“I was a little concerned with the post today. It’s not the best post when you have this kind of disadvantage. But when the horse broke really sharp from the gate, the race was pretty much over.”