Pletcher-trained Colt Scores in Stakes Debut on Gulfstream Turf
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Several hours after having to scratch program favorite Havana from Saturday’s $200,000 Swale (G2) with a quarter crack, Gala Award gave trainer Todd Pletcher a nice consolation prize.
Less than six weeks removed from his maiden victory on the same Gulfstream Park turf course, Gala Award took the lead in mid-stretch and held off late-running Mr Speaker to win the $150,000 Palm Beach (G3) by a half-length.
Owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier, Gala Award ($18) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.19 on a firm turf course. It was another neck back to 5-2 favorite Storming Inti, who had his four-race win streak snapped and wound up a half-length in front of Chad Brown-trained stablemate Pleuven in fourth.
Can’thelpbelieving, My Storm Trooper, Cabo Cat, Morning Calm, So Lonesome, Patent, Smart Cover and Two Jacks Wild completed the order of finish.
“I’m very proud of this horse. It seems like he’s been improving leaps and bounds over the winter,” Pletcher said. “We felt like his maiden race was strong enough from a figure standpoint to take a shot and the mile and an eighth would suit him, and it worked out really well. Havana, we would have loved to have gotten his season started today, but it was a minor setback and hopefully we can move forward from here.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had Gala Award in a stalking spot on the outside of Javier Castellano and Storming Inti, who led through a quarter-mile in 23.90 seconds, a half in 48.25 and six furlongs in 1:11.42, and still had a one-length advantage at the head of the stretch.
Velazquez was able to get Gala Award to the front past the eighth pole, and he was determined in turning back the late bid from Grade 3 winner Mr Speaker, who was rallying strongly on the far outside.
“The race unfolded almost exactly like we thought it would,” Pletcher said. “We thought we’d be close, and we wanted to keep some pressure on Storming Inti. The turf course has been playing kind to horses that are laying close, and we wanted him to be involved.”
It was the fourth stakes victory of the Champions meet for Pletcher, who has won Gulfstream’s past 10 training titles, and the first for Velazquez since he returned to riding at Gulfstream on Jan. 25 after needing emergency surgery to remove his spleen following a spill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on Nov. 1.
“Finally I get to win a stakes,” Velazquez said. “It was a perfect trip. He did everything that Todd said he would do. He said he’d place himself pretty forwardly and that I had to make sure to get after him a little bit early, because the horse that Javier was riding was a fighter. When he gets there he likes to hang a little bit, but he put in a good fight today.”
Gala Award is a sophomore son of Bernardini, a multiple Grade 1 winner on dirt and champion 3-year-old of 2006. He was a closing second in his debut at Gulfstream on Dec. 7 before a professional three-quarter-length score on Jan. 20, both at 8 ½ furlongs.
“It is a big jump, and I think it says a lot about his quality,” Pletcher. “He’s been improving. His dirt works have improved a lot. I’m not going to rule out something like the dirt or the Blue Grass. I think with today’s effort he put everything in play, and we’ll see where we go from here.”
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