Gulfstream News & Notes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Honor Code and Cairo Prince staged a memorable stretch drive in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, when their protracted duel resulted in the former coming back to register a nose decision over the later. The thrilling finish of the 1 1/8-mile stakes for 2-year-olds was so memorable that a strong performance by the third-place finisher may have gone underappreciated.
Wicked Strong, who broke a little awkwardly from the starting gate, rallied from several lengths back to finish just a half-length behind the dueling 1-2 finishers despite racing a bit greenly through the lane. The finish of the son of Hard Spun was particularly impressive considering how slow the pace was in the Remsen, in which the first half-mile was run in 52.74 seconds.
“People still don’t know how to gauge the race because it was so slow – the pace was so slow,” trainer James Jerkens said. “It was incredibly slow and they sprinted home. He was going faster than all of them.” Wicked Strong, who breezed five furlongs at Palm Meadows in 1:00 4/5 Saturday, is set to clash again with Cairo Prince in Saturday’s $400,000 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Wicked Strong had previously debuted at Belmont with a second-place finish in a six-furlong sprint in late September before breaking his maiden at a mile.
“He beat a nice horse. The horse that was second of John Shirreff’s ended up going out to California to win his next race,” said Jerkens, referring to Cool Samurai, who won next out at Santa Anita. “I think it was a nice field my colt beat and he came back good and ran good in the Remsen. All his races are legit.”
Wicked Strong is owned by Centennial Farms, the ownership syndicate best known for Colonial Affair’s 1993 Belmont Stakes victory.
“He’s a nice colt; he’s got good wind; he’s good and strong; and he’s got a bit of a streak in him, which is good,” Jerkens said. “He’s a tough horse to handle, but he puts it all together on the track. He doesn’t cheat on the track. He’s all business when he gets out there.”
Coup de Grace Works with Velazquez
Unbeaten colt Coup de Grace signaled his readiness for the biggest test of his young career with a bullet half-mile work on Sunday morning at Palm Meadows.
Under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, the 3-year-old son of Tapit breezed four furlongs in 47.40 seconds, the fastest of 52 horses. He will make his next start in Saturday’s $400,00 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park. “He worked good. It was cold out, and he was a little sharp,” said Chad Brown, who trains Coup de Grace for owner Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms. “Johnny seemed to get along with the horse well, and he said he learned a couple things about him in the morning, and that was really the reason for putting him on. All systems are go for the Holy Bull.”
Velazquez is returning to ride for the first time since suffering serious injuries, including surgery to remove his spleen, following the fatal breakdown of Secret Compass in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. He inherits the mount on Coup de Grace from Javier Castellano, who will be aboard Wicked Strong for trainer Jimmy Jerkens in the Holy Bull.
Coup de Grace broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 9 by three-quarters of a length, going six furlongs in 1:10.11. He returned to take his first try against winners on Dec. 15 at Gulfstream, hitting the wire a length in front after a mile in 1:36.76.
As he did following his maiden win, Coup de Grace has breezed three times since his last race, the most recent coming in company. He was timed galloping out five furlongs in 1:00.40.
Also pointing to the Holy Bull are Grade 2 winner Cairo Prince; Grade 3 winner Mr Speaker; General a Rod and Wildcat Red, who ran 1-2, respectively, in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1; Swynford Stakes winner Conquest Titan; Wicked Strong and Financial Mogul, both Grade 2 placed; Almost Famous, Intense Holiday and Our Caravan.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Brown said. “He’s unproven around two turns, and it’s a real test for him. I think it’s that time of year to try him around two turns and then we can figure out how to campaign him the rest of the year.”
Meanwhile, Brown was unsure where he would bring back Storming Inti, who ran his win streak to four races with a thrilling head victory over Grade 1 winner We Miss Artie in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy on Sunday at Gulfstream.
Owned by Santa Rosa Racing Stables, the Pennsylvania-bred son of Stormy Atlantic has won three consecutive stakes: the one-mile Awad and 1 1/16-mile Kitten’s Joy on grass and the one-mile Pulpit on dirt, the latter two at Gulfstream.
“We’ll just have to see how he comes out of it,” Brown said. “If he’s going to need that little extra time to recover, I’m not sure. But, we have the whole rest of the year and a wonderful ownership group that lets me operate, so we’re under no pressure to run the horse back anytime soon. He’ll tell me.”
Romans Upbeat on 3-Year-Olds
Trainer Dale Romans issued an upbeat bulletin on Monday morning about several of his newly turned 3-year-olds. Spendthrift Farm’s Medal Count rallied strongly to dead-heat for the win in an allowance on the Gulfstream grass on January 12 in his turf debut, and the versatile son of Dynaformer will likely test his credentials on the main track next time.
“He’s doing good,” Romans said. “I’m sure that we’ll go back to the dirt in a stakes somewhere, I’m just not sure where yet.”
A $360,000 yearling purchase, Medal Count aired in his debut on the Ellis Park dirt before finishing fifth on Polytrack in the Bourbon Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. The big bay colt disappointed Romans when he ran up the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 2 at Santa Anita, but the Kentucky native remains convinced of Medal Count’s ability.
“He has a lot of room to improve,” Romans said after the colt’s win. “He has all the natural talent in the world.”
Romans also offered progress reports on a trio of colts owned by Donegal Racing. Cleburne and Smart Cover completed the $500.00 exacta for the syndicate in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill on September 7, only to be sidelined thereafter. Culprit broke his maiden in his third start on October 27, but faded to eighth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) on November 30.
“They’re coming along well,” Romans said. “All three of them are doing good and are pointing in the right direction. We just have to speed it up a little.”
Culprit, a son of Street Sense, has recorded three five-furlong workouts since arriving at Gulfstream in mid-December.
“He’s not far from a race—he’s probably one work away,” Romans noted.
Cleburne was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup with an injury.
“He cracked his shin a little bit; it was very minor,” Romans said. “He’s back in training and he’ll be on the worktab soon.”
Smart Cover sustained a saucer fracture after the Iroquois.
“He’s been training a little longer (than Cleburne) and he’ll be breezing in the next week or so,” Romans added.
River Seven Breezes for Donn Handicap
Harlan’s Holiday winner River Seven prepped for a scheduled start in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream on Feb. 9 with a sharp five-furlong breeze Monday morning.
The 4-year-old son of Johannesburg was clocked in 1:00 3/5 over Gulfstream’s main track. Luis Contreras subbed for regular jockey Joe Rocco Jr. for the move.
“For me, the time isn’t important, it’s the way he did it,” said trainer Nick Gonzalez. “I watched from the three-eighths pole. It was in typical River fashion. He was cruising around there like it was a barely-getting-out-of-second-gear kind of thing.”
River Seven, a Grade 3 winner on both turf and Polytrack, turned in a fairly spectacular performance while making only his second lifetime start on dirt in the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday. The Ontario-bred gelding surged from off the pace to win by four lengths going away and set a track record of 1:41.73 for 1 1/16 miles in the process.
“What an accomplishment, especially for us. You come here and win your first stake at Gulfstream and break the track record in style. He won easily. You don’t often see a horse break a track record while geared down,” Gonzalez said. “We were on Cloud 9 for a long time. We still are but you have to stay focused.”
River Seven’s only previous dirt appearance came in a second-place finish in last year’s Prince of Wales, the second leg of Canada’s Triple Crown at Fort Erie.