After finishing 10th in her stakes debut in last May’s Honey Ryder Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf event, Little Michelle will get a chance to run for accolades at her preferred distance of five furlongs, at which she broke her maiden in her career debut and scored a hard-fought neck victory in her last start on April 2. In that most recent start, an upper-level allowance, the daughter of Tiz Wonderful gamely ran down next-out winner Knox County Zip to win off an eight-month layoff.
Trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who has campaigned the West Virginia-bred throughout the entirety of her seven-race career, recently moved his stable from Gulfstream to its satellite training facility Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach and said Little Michelle is thriving in her new surroundings.
“She’s adjusting really well to Palm Meadows, and she’s doing excellent,” he said. “I think that the distance will help her big time. She’s a very fast filly. The last time she ran, she won very impressively, and the time before that, she bled, and we made some adjustments. Now we just hope she runs the way that she’s training.”
After finishing a well-beaten third in an allowance last July, a particularly hot day in South Florida, Vaccarezza noticed that his filly was not quite right. She bled in the race and was fatigued, so he decided to give her extended time off to recover.
“She was always a quality filly. She won first time out for me, and she’s just really fast,” Vaccarezza said. “She’s one of those fillies that’s just very hard to keep weight on. She’s tall and lanky and a very racy-looking filly. The race that she ran poorly was on a day when there was a horrendous heat wave, and she bled, so I gave her all the time off and sent her to Ocala. I changed her feed, and I think it did wonders for her.”
Indeed, when returning to win off such an extended layoff, Little Michelle proved she is back in top form; the filly has yet to finish off the board in four starts in turf sprints, her record standing at 2-0-2. While she appears to have found her niche, Vaccarezza is confident in her ability to run on other surfaces as well, as his charge has trained strongly on dirt. Prior to shipping to Palm Meadows, Little Michelle turned in a bullet move at Gulfstream on May 4, breezing four furlongs in a blistering 46.56 seconds. She then toned things down a notch in Boynton Beach, most recently working four furlongs in 51.00 seconds on May 10.
“She can run on dirt, she can run on turf,” Vaccarezza said. “I know she’s really fast. We’ll take it one race at a time. We have to be very careful with her because of the bleeding problems that she has. We’ll see how she performs.”
Little Michelle’s stiffest challenge in the Gracie could come from Fascinante, winner of last fall’s Sparkler Stakes at Gulfstream Park West. The 5-year-old mare, trained by Efren Loza, Jr., most recently finished fourth in the Sunset Handicap on April 12.
Joann’s Wildcat will make her turf debut in the Gracie. The Larry Pilotti trainee won three races in a row this winter at Gulfstream, taking those starts by a combined 13 lengths, before finishing fifth in the Orange Blossom Handicap behind Grade 2 winner R Free Roll on April 4. The 4-year-old daughter of Wildcat Heir will make a quick turnaround for the Gracie after finishing third in the Sunrise Handicap on May 3.
Double Secret, winner of the Lightning City Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January, and My Sweet Dove, a recent allowance winner in Tampa, will also contest the Gracie for trainers Adolfo Exposito and Monte Thomas, respectively. Perfect Step, She’s Spooky, and Trio of Mischief round out the field.