The Kathleen O’Connell-trained 4-year-old filly stalked the early pace before drawing off to a 2 ½-length victory in the seven-furlong stakes for fillies and mares on the $800,000 Sunshine Millions Preview program that serves as a steppingstone for the $1.1 million Sunshine Millions card at Gulfstream Jan. 16.
“She’s been a real ultra-consistent filly and she’s had a little bad racing luck here and there. She’s a real trier – a very, very classy filly,” O’Connell said. “She’s just been so close, so close, almost, almost – so I’m really happy for her. And I’m really happy for Mr. Campbell. He’s put a lot into the business – a lot. My hat’s off to him. He’s been there through the good and the bad.”
O’Connell, who has trained horses for Campbell for 25 years, had previously saddled Legal Laura for a second-place finish in an optional claiming event at Keeneland, where the veteran South Florida trainer also saddled Lady Shipman for a second-place finish in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last weekend.
“She’s (Legal Laura) really showed an ability to close last time out at Keeneland. She got into trouble and she closed very well,” said O’Connell, noting that her confidence in the 7-1 third choice was boosted by the stretch-out from 6 ½ furlongs to 7 furlongs.
Flutterby, who had won three stakes and finished second in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream in her last four starts for 94-year-old breeder/owner/trainer Jerry Bozzo, broke well from the gate just outside Legal Laura but was unable to open a clear early lead. The speedy favorite was challenged for pacesetting duties to her inside by Moment of Delight before taking over on the turn into the homestretch. The 4-year-old daughter of Congrats was challenged in mid-stretch by My Miss Venezuela before Antonio Gallardo steered a surging Legal Laura to the inside of the dueling duo to pull off the upset.
“I had a good trip. I know the [outside horses] had speed. My filly has a lot of speed. He’s gone to the lead before, but now she’s learned to run behind horses, relax and save something for the end. That’s what I wanted to do,” Gallardo said. “She responded really well.”
My Miss Venezuela, the 7-1 second choice ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of third-place finisher Flutterby and jockey Luca Panici.
Legal Laura, who had won two of three previous starts over the Miami Gardens track, ran the seven furlongs in 1:23.48.
The Distaff was programmed as the fifth of eight stakes for Florida-breds on Saturday’s card and was followed by the Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf and Juvenile Sprint.
In the $100,000 Juvenile Turf, where Little Nick V. gained steadily on the outside down the stretch and had one final surge at the wire to break his maiden in his stakes debut. It was the second win of the day for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who had visited the winner’s circle three races earlier with Jewel of a Cat following the $100,000 Turf Sprint.
After settling in fourth under jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, Little Nick V. battled through the lane with 8-5 favorite Light the Night to his left and Ian Smith on the inside. The 2-year-old son of Grade 1 winner Colonel John was able to get his nose down on the line while finishing the mile in 1:39.69.
In a blanket finish, Light the Night finished second, a head in front of Ian Smith with 15-1 long shot Leonardo Da Vinci another neck back in fourth.
Even-money favorite Pancake swept to the lead around the far turn and drew away to win the $100,000 Juvenile Fillies Turf in just her second career start. Trained by Ronny Werner for Arindel Farm and ridden by Jose Caraballo, the 2-year-old daughter of Corinthian ran a mile in 1:40.46.
Pancake ($4) was a half-length winner of her unveiling Sept. 26 at Gulfstream Park, also on the grass. Lupo’s Way won a three-way battle for second, finishing a neck in front of Catira Rock, with Just Before a head back in fourth.
George Kerr’s homebred Li’l Meatball went straight to the front and never looked back, holding off stakes winners Fellowship and Bullet Gone Astray to close the day with a 1 ¼-length victory in the $100,000 Juvenile Sprint. Winning time for 6 ½ furlongs was 1:18.21.
Li’l Meatball ($13.20) and regular rider Miguel Vasquez came into the Juvenile Sprint off consecutive third-place finishes in the Florida Stallion Affirmed and In Reality, the latter won by Fellowship.