HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, December 19, 2021 – Perhaps for the first time since Gulfstream’s Championship Meet began on December 3, with the possible exception of the Claiming Crown program, there was some genuine racing energy on the grounds.
The track apron was relatively full, every seat seemed to be taken by the time we arrived after the first race, and there was buzz among the players we encountered. Five stakes races–making yesterday the first Super Saturday of the meet—will do that for a live audience.
Ongoing construction is not yet complete, blocking the entrance to a gate hard by the horsemen’s and handicap parking sections, as a new building is being completed. The rumor is the facility will supply food, spirits, or both.
The huge matrix board is not yet in place. Officials believe is will be completed in time for the first race of January restricted to three-year-olds, the Mucho Macho Man mile, the first step on the road to the Florida and Kentucky Derbies.
On Saturday, other divisions were represented. Handicapping was more challenging than usual as many of the graded events were used as bridge-race preps. Going in, as one might surmise, horses were entered at various degrees of fitness and purpose, blurring the lines of intent. Coming out, many question remained going forward.
The G3 Suwannee River for turf fillies and mares was challenging on paper and the results were perplexing coming out. The only thing handicappers we spoke with agreed on was that Sweet Melania’s best days were behind her. We were wrong.
Todd Pletcher, in Texas for his son’s graduation, wasn’t present but his work was complete. Johnny sealed the deal by giving her a perfect trip from a wide draw.
The win was the first Suwannee River for Velazquez but his 161st career stakes victory at Gulfstream Park, 11 behind fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey. Johnny’s Suwannee plan? “If I could get behind somebody…it was perfect. And when I let her go, she responded right away.”
Early line choices Shifty She and Alms made no impact, as if badly needing the run. Summering made a wide, middling move on the turn then was one-paced while wide through the lane. Pletcher said that the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf is under consideration.
Dance d’Oro broke through with her first stakes win going a mile in the Rampart, a small field where none of her rivals distinguished themselves. Co-second choice Dream Marie went wrong and bore out at the turn and was pulling up in midstretch where she unseated Junior Alvarado.
The G3 Sugar Swirl sprint was a two horse battle for the final three furlongs with Center Aisle out-finishing Frank’s Rockette from the outside. It was her third straight win after changing hands to Paulo Lobo, a stakes breakthrough, and she rates to continue her 4YO development.
Fearless, given a perfect trip beneath Luis Saez, underscored his preference for the Hallandale surface by taking the G3 Harlan’s Holiday, his fourth victory, with one placing, from five local starts.
The bad news is that he won the privilege of facing Knicks Go and stablemate Life Is Good should the connections decide to go that way next month. Lots of money available for the minors in a $3 million race, so, if fit, why not?
Alvarado escaped unharmed after being unseated in the Rampart and returned to pilot Doswell to a wire score from the rail in the G2 Fort Lauderdale after rivals decided to apply no serious pace pressure, stalking closely from close range instead, but to no avail.
Said Alvarado: “I knew they were in trouble as soon as I started asking him because he picked it up very quickly…”
The gelded six-year-old likes it here, if Saturday’s effort is added to a placing in this race last year followed up by a show finish in the McKnight, as Alvarado who got the ride back from Barclay Tagg, who showed his trademark patience and horsemanship with the son of Giant’s Causeway.
And perhaps a run in the Pegasus World Cup Turf? “We’re thinking about it. We’ll probably go in it,” Tagg said.
Now that the connections have him figured out, why not? “He’s hard to get fit because he’s had some little problems and we had to give and take with him a lot,” Tagg explained.
“He’s a horse that’s kind of made for trouble. [Assistant trainer] Robin [Smullen] has just done a hell of a job with him. She got him all straightened out and he’s very sensible now.
“Junior rode him super. He doesn’t like being in a crowd and he doesn’t like all that pressure around. He had the inside and we thought if he gets away good, just leave him there.” And that’s where he stayed, right to the end.