Espinoza, Castellano Set to Ride in Summit of Speed Co-Feature
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Three-time graded-stakes winner Merry Meadow will ship in from New York to participate on Sunday's $1.175 million Summit of Speed card, but the 5-year-old mare is no stranger to Gulfstream Park. The daughter of Henny Hughes will cut back to her ideal distance when she returns from more than a three-month freshening in the $250,000 Princess Rooney (G2), a designated 'Win & You’re In' race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) in October.
“She’s been doing great,” said trainer Mark Hennig, whose multiple-stakes winner is slated to face nine fillies and mares in the six-furlong stakes.“It was the timing, more than anything else, and the distance, and it’s on a familiar racetrack. Gulfstream making the accommodations to get there and back helped as well.”
Sunday's Summit of Speed program (First Post: 12:30 p.m.) will include 12 races that drew full fields with a total of 128 entries. Guarantees will be offered for the 20-Cent Rainbow 6 ($100,000 jackpot carryover pool), Late Pick 4 ($100,000) and Pick 5 ($50,000). All three multi-race wagers will include all-stakes sequences. The Princess Rooney is carded as the 10th race, in which Merry Meadow will seek her ninth career victory.
A homebred of William Parsons Jr. and David S. Howe, Merry Meadow has not run since pressuring the pace and fading to sixth in the seven-furlong Inside Information (G2) in March, the mare’s first loss at Gulfstream. She won her previous three starts, including Gulfstream’s Hurricane Bertie (G3) and Sugar Swirl (G3) stakes, after beginning her win streak with a 1 ¾-length victory in October’s Sky Beauty Stakes at Gulfstream Park West.
“It was the distance and the way the race unfolded,” Hennig said of the Inside Information. “She isn’t really one that wants to be up there fighting for the lead. It’s not her style. I think [jockey Javier Castellano] said she kind of got taken out of her comfort zone after that. Knowing it was seven-eighths, it was the worst-case scenario. I think for her to get seven-eighths, she has to have an ideal trip, and she had a less-than-ideal trip at a less-than-ideal distance.”
Since returning from her freshening, Merry Meadow has been training steadily at Belmont Park. She most recently turned in a four-furlong work on June 22, getting the distance in 49.59 seconds over the track on which she won the Vagrancy Handicap (G3) last May. The Vagrancy was the first graded score of her career; it also happened to come off a three-month layoff.
“She’s always held her form,” Hennig said.“She’s never really ever needed any one set track. She’s traveled well and run on all kinds of surfaces. She’s always been a pretty consistent runner. We were able to give her a little breather after [the Inside Information], and she’s always run well fresh.”
Castellano, the defending two-time Eclipse Award champion and defending four-time Champions Meet titlist, has been named to ride Merry Meadow in the Princess Rooney and is slated for 10 other mounts Sunday.
Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah for a sweep of the 2015 Triple Crown, has six Summit of Speed mounts, including Kiss to Remember in the Princess Rooney and City of Weston in the co-featured $250,000 Smile Sprint (G2).
Kiss to Remember is one of two Marty Wolfson-trained horses entered in the Princess Rooney. Graded-stakes placed Kiss to Remember is set to make her first start in South Florida and for Wolfson after finishing fourth in the Minnesota HBPA Distaff Stakes at Canterbury Park on June 6. Stablemate Phaniebdancing finished second in the Alachua Handicap on May 23 in her Gulfstream Park debut.
Flutterby, R Free Roll and Sweet Basil will all enter the Princess Rooney off wins in local preps. Flutterby captured the Sea Lily Handicap by more than nine lengths on May 30; R Free Roll scored a ¾-length victory in the June 6 Tiger Lily Handicap on turf; and Sweet Basil notched her second straight win by taking the Alachua Handicap in her stakes debut.
The Michael Matz-trained Tea Time joins Merry Meadow as the other out-of-state shipper for the Princess Rooney. The 4-year-old filly has posted back-to-back stakes placings, most recently finishing third, just a head from second, in the June 20 Red Cross at Monmouth Park.
The Bill Kaplan-trained Naval Command will return from an eight-month layoff in the Princess Rooney. The speedy daughter of Midshipman has not run since finishing fifth in the Alcibiades (G1) last October but previously won the Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs.
Also among the entrants is Little Michelle, who will return to the main track after winning the Gracie Handicap on April 18 and finishing fifth in the Tiger Lily, both on turf. The field is capped by Nesso, who most recently finished third in the Sugar Maple Stakes on April 18 at Charles Town.