Force Freeze Starts 2012 Campaign in Gulfstream Sprint
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Peter Walder is looking forward to a successful 2012 campaign for Force Freeze, a 7-year-old gelding who developed into an elite sprinter last fall. Yet, this racing season may seem to move a little slow for the trainer of the veteran sprinter that came so excruciatingly close to winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in his 2011 finale.
“It was heartbreaking. It haunts me. I watch that race two or three times a week. I wish the Breeders Cup was tomorrow so we can avenge that,” Walder said. “I know he got beat, but I know he was the best horse in there.”
While Walder is anxious to get back to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, the 43-year-old trainer is also excited to get Force Freeze’s racing season started in Saturday’s $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2).
The son of Forest Camp, who lost by a neck to eventual Eclipse Award champion Amazombie in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, will take on seven rivals in the seven-furlong sprint from the far outside post position.
“I love the Eight Hole. It will allow us to sit and stalk,” said Walder, whose gelding will be ridden by Paco Lopez.
Force Freeze is expected to be heavily favored, but his trainer does have some reservations about the seven-furlong distance of the Gulfstream Sprint.
“I’m using this race to tell me where I’m going with him,” said Walder, who has penciled in either the seven-furlong $300,000 Churchill Downs (G2) on May 7 or the six-furlong $200,000 Count Fleet (G3) at Oaklawn Park on April 14 for Force Freeze’s second start. “I’m not looking for him to go as far as he can as fast as he can. I’m looking for him to rate a little bit in this race to see if we’re going seven-eighths or cutting back to three-quarters.”
Force Freeze, who has never run beyond six furlongs in 21 starts in the U.S. and Dubai, has been training strongly at Gulfstream Park for his return to action, continuing to flourish from Walder’s training program. It was that hands-on-program that caught the attention of Force Freeze’s connections last year when they were looking for a U.S. trainer.
“They said they were looking for someone who didn’t have a lot of horses and could give him some attention,” said Walder, who has saddled winners at a 25 percent rate from 2,294 career starters. “I didn’t expect to get a call back, but the next call I got was to say, ‘Your horse is in quarantine in New York and will be sent to you in three days.’”
Force Freeze, who had failed to live up to expectations while racing on the synthetic surfaces in Dubai, hardly seemed like a world class sprinter at the beginning of his stay in Walder’s stable.
“I took my time with him. The first couple times I worked him, I called the stable manager and said, ‘Are you sure this horse doesn’t run long?’ He’d work in :49, but he’d go :25 and come home in :24,” Walder said. “Then all of a sudden, I worked him and he worked like crazy in :46. I call them up and said, ‘We’re running in a stake.”
Force Freeze, who had won three of five starts in the U.S. before being sold and exported to Dubai, made a triumphant return to the U.S. in the non-graded Teddy’s Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park in July, scoring by four lengths over Jersey Town.
“Jersey Town was a Grade 1 winner. My horse ran away from him like nothing, and that’s when I realized that we had a Breeders’ Cup horse,” said Walder, whose new trainee ran six furlongs in 1:07 3/5 after pressing a blistering pace of :21 3/5, :43 3/5 and :55 2/5.
The Kentucky-bred gelding, who had won his debut in a $20,000 claimer for his original connections, made the jump to Grade 1 company in the Vosburgh for his second start for Walder, closely tracking front-running winner Giant Ryan to check in just a half-length back in a runner-up finish.
“It would have been nice if we could have won that, because we wouldn’t have had to pay to go to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Walder of the Win-and-You’re-In Breeders’ Cup prep. “But that race validated my faith in the horse and what I knew about him. When you win a $100,000 non-graded race and you say you’re going to the Breeders’ Cup, they think you’re crazy. It proved to everybody what I already knew and what I was telling the owners – that he is a Grade 1 sprinter.”
Force Freeze turned in a win-worthy effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he raced wide while stalking the early pace before taking the lead into the stretch and just failing to hold off Amazombie.
The defeat has been hard to accept, but the gelding’s gutsy performance on thoroughbred racing’s main stage left Walder thankful to his owner for the opportunity to train a world class sprinter that he believes will be get the job done this year.