HALLANDALE BEACH, FL July 3, 2022 – Any way one cares to look at the equines on display Saturday of July 4th weekend, the big takeaway is that –ahem—there was plenty of fireworks between the fences.
One championship was affirmed another providing a glimpse of a burgeoning divisional star, given the performances of defending Eclipse champion filly sprinter Ce Ce in Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Princess Rooney and the dominating finish of Charge It in Belmont’s Grade 3 Dwyer.
HRI has supported South Florida’s Summit of Speed since before there was a HorseRaceInsider website. It was Calder Race Course, the late Miami Gardens track, which originated the summertime all-sprint concept.
Of course, things change over time, and the Independence Day weekend event doesn’t attract the same number of nationally known runners that come to town for a bevy of stakes back in the day.
Decades ago, I can remember a program that attracted $17 million in handle at Calder, an awesome amount considering it was a big event day, not as commonplace as the thematic programs of today.
But there were, indeed, big performances at both Belmont Park and Churchill Downs, featuring the prestigious Fleur de Lis for fillies and mares and the always significant G2 Stephen Foster, a former handicap and former Grade 1.
Pared down basically to three events and spread over two days this year; Saturday’s G3 Smile and G2 Rooney and Sunday’s listed Bob Umphrey Sprint Stakes, renewed on Tapeta Track this year, are all that remain of the series at Gulfstream Park.
The Smile, named for Breeders’ Cup Sprint runnerup in 1985 who avenged that defeat the following year, used to be a coveted Florida graded prize. But given added competition, smaller foal crops, and ubiquitous number of sprint opportunities today, it lost its graded status.
So much for history and tradition, in a game built on both.
Ce Ce, who won last year’s Rooney which punched her ticket to Del Mar and subsequent championship, did so once again, an expenses-paid return to Keeneland this fall with a chance to repeat as sprint champion. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Trainer Michael McCarthy has managed her deftly and while she easily had plenty of condition, was not as sharp as she can be owing to a recent freshening and two previous routes when she won the G2 Azeri before finishing third to Letruska in the G1 Apple Blossom.
Consequently, and having more than enough horse, Victor Espinoza admitted that he moved earlier than he would have ordinarily but didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances on “the best horse.” He didn’t, and she was.
Meanwhile, a young gelding named Willy Boi improved his lifetime mark to 6-for-12 by winning his third straight since transferred to the barn of Jorge Delgado as Chantal Sutherland continues to make the most of her time—and career—in South Florida.
Biding her time while the speed entertained themselves on the pace, she moved into contention when ready from the outside, took command at headstretch and never had an anxious moment thereafter, her second win of the day for this barn.
Despite a fast and purposeful training regimen, odds-on Drain the Clock was disappointing. Despite given more than three months to recover from his journey to Dubai, Edwin Gonzalez urged him seriously at mid-turn, but Maclean’s Music colt remained one-paced.
[Ed. Note: As the HRI Faithful know, we suggested a bet on Willy Boi to win at 2-1 or greater, seeking value vs. the returning favorite. At a minute to post, we placed our wager, rooted, and cheered, until the finish was posted officially. We cursed when we noted Willie Boi was 4-5.
Drain the Clock—we believe he was 1-2 when placing our wager—drifted up to 4-5 as a result of the ultra-last-minute wager on the winner. HISA would show me something if they would address this issue that’s driving player away. Without delay!
Meanwhile at Belmont Park
It was a quixotic 24-hour period for Todd Pletcher as he confirmed that Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal suffered a deep bone bruise that will sideline him for a minimum of two months, then engineered the successful returns of both Life Is Good and Charge It, who were among his four winners on the day.
Admittedly, we can’t speak of the quality of the rivals that finished a whopping 23 lengths behind 17th Kentucky Derby finisher Charge It but well aware of the talents of Speaker’s Corner, who was dusted by brilliant Life Is Good, showing no ill effects from his Middle East sojourn.
Jose Ortiz knew he had the favorite to beat and never let Life Is Good out of his sights, racing off his right hip throughout until headstretch where Life Is Good powered away from Speaker’s Corner and a couple of outclassed rivals, taking the G2 John A Nerud by five in a snappy 1:21.70.
Charge It’s margin had a few observers thinking about Secretariat. Pletcher later admitted, as the winner increased his margin, sneaking a peek back to the pole that marks Secretariat’s 31-length Belmont Stakes in 1973.
Following the Derby, Charge It underwent a procedure to correct a displaced palette. The Dwyer the results were on full display in the Dwyer.
Post-race, Pletcher indicated that the Jim Dandy, Travers, or both, would be in play at Saratoga. The colt completed the mile in 1:34.67, with a final furlong in 24.94 seconds.
Coming Monday, Stephen Foster Day review and it’s All About Time at Gulfstream