As racing declined in New England during the past decade, Team Assimakopoulos was forced to downsize its stable while splitting time between Suffolk Downs and tracks outside of Massachusetts. With the demise of Suffolk Downs last fall, a permanent change had to be made.
John Assimakopoulos chose Gulfstream Park as a year-round base while serving as the hands-on assistant for his father’s stable.
“I really want to make it here. I realize it’s going to take a little time to get established, but my plan is to stay here,” he said. “I’ve always loved Florida.”
Team Assimakopoulos has always enjoyed considerable success with fillies and mares, and Fond of Sarah will have the opportunity to break through with a South Florida stakes victory against 3-year-old fillies in Saturday’s $60,000 Tangelo Handicap at Gulfstream.
The Florida-bred daughter of With Distinction is scheduled to face six fillies in the seven-furlong sprint off back-to-back allowance victories during Gulfstream’s Championship Meet.
On Feb. 20, the Charles Assimakopoulos homebred romped to a front-running 2 ¾-length triumph over favored Little Miss Julia. She followed up with a front-running score by a head on March 6. Runner-up Huasca went on to win an allowance and finish second in the Miss Preakness (G3) at Pimlico. Feathered, who finished fourth, went on to win a Grade 2 stakes and finish second in a Grade 1.
Fond of Sarah is slated to stretch out from six to seven furlongs in the Tangelo off a three-month layoff.
“She’s been going along steadily. She hasn’t missed any training for any reason. She’s had some great breezes, but there is nothing like a race,” John Assimakopoulos said. “It’s a distance I think she’ll like. We expect a good effort.”
Assimakopoulos has named apprentice Tyler Gaffalione to ride Fond of Sarah, who will not be in receipt of a five-pound allowance in a stakes race.
“I think Tyler has unlimited potential,” said Assimakopoulos, whose stable employed the services of the young apprentice’s father, Steve Gaffalione, in New England during the 1990s. “In my opinion, he’s as good a rider as anyone right now. He knows the filly. He has confidence in her. He’s 2-for-2 on her and he’s been on her for her breezes.”
St. George Stable’s Huasca, fresh off her solid Miss Preakness effort, has returned to South Florida for an attempt to turn the tables on Fond of Sarah.
Dogwood Trail will seek to rebound from a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the Sophomore Fillies Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on April 4.
“She just didn’t like the track. She had no excuses other than she didn’t seem to like the track,” Gold said. “We just wrote it off. There was nothing wrong with her. She came back fine. She’s been training gangbusters since. I was disappointed in her race. I thought she’d leave them behind and say, ‘Goodbye.’”
The Jacks or Better Farm’s homebred broke her maiden at first asking a year ago before going on the sidelines until winning her 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream impressively on Feb. 8. She finished second behind Taylor S in the Any Limit Stakes on March 14 before shipping to Tampa Bay.
Avery Racing and Silver Oak Stable’s R Sassy Lass, who captured the Sophomore Fillies Stakes at Tampa, has been assigned highweight of 122 pounds. Previous to her upset of Dogwood Trail, the Kirk Ziadie-trained filly finished second in the Old Hat (G3) at Gulfstream in January.
Tracy Pinchin’s Holywell, a two-time winner during the 2014 Florida Sire Stakes Series, will seek to rebound from a pair of subpar showings in 2015.
Silver Fog and Nevelee round out the field.