Gulfstream Park Derby & Spectacular Bid Bring in New Year
The 2013 crop of 3-year-old hopefuls on the road to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park on March 30 and Triple Crown races in the spring will be launched for some in renewals of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby and $100,000 Spectacular Bid on New Year’s Day Tuesday.
A wide-open field of eight was entered in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby with John Oxley’s Star Contender and Goodwood Racing II’s Purple Egg the likely choices. The six-furlong Spectacular Bid drew a field of six led by Bruce Chandler, Robert McKee and partners’ Merit Man, David Melin and Trilogy Stable’s Brave Dave and Silverton Hill LLC’s Little Distorted.
Star Contender was among the leading 2-year-olds developed at Woodbine in 2012, winning the $250,000 Cup and Saucer Stakes and finishing second last out in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity on Nov. 10. The Canadian-bred son of Henny Hughes sets out on his 3-year-old campaign with jockey Patrick Husbands aboard for trainer Mark Casse, who is putting ‘blinkers on’ for Tuesday’s race.
“We had a lot of nice 2-year-olds this year and he was the greenest of the bunch,” said Casse Wednesday morning from Palm Meadows. “He’s Canadian-bred and there are so many good races for them at Woodbine, we just left him up there. He’s trained very well on dirt, but it’s a question you want to answer.”
An $80,000 Canadian September yearling sales purchase, Star Contender finished third making his career debut sprinting in the Simcoe Stakes in early September, a race won by Casse-trained stablemate Dynamic Sky. Star Contender stretched out to two turns to break his maiden in his second start later that month prior to capturing the Cup and Saucer on turf.
Jockey Joe Rocco, Jr. will get aboard Purple Egg for the first time as the Lion Heart gelding bids for his fourth victory in as many starts for trainer Jane Cibelli. A modest $22,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Purple Egg was an impressive debut winner at Monmouth Park in late August, won an allowance race by 6 ¾ lengths at Parx in mid-September and rallied to a one-length victory last out in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1.
”The first time I saw this horse gallop, I said ‘What a stride!’ He did things so easily,” said Cibelli recently. “His last race was his toughest after the first two came to him rather easily. I’ve always thought he wanted to go long.”
Also certain to attract solid support in the race will be Dream Walkin Farms’ Almost English and jockey Jose Lezcano in the saddle for trainer Nick Zito. The roan/gray colt by Tapit was a $160,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase and has made three starts.
Almost English finished second by a half-length in his six-furlong debut at Delaware Park on Sept. 22, broke his maiden next out on Oct. 14 at Parx going seven furlongs and finished third last out in an ‘off the turf’ one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 7.
Completing the field for the Gulfstream Park Derby are Pinnacle Racing Stable’s Uptown Anthem, Juan Leyva; Rose Stephany Taveras’ Sr. Quisqueyano, Joel Rosario; Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday, Paco Lopez and Rose Family Stable’s Joshua’s Comprise, Kent Desormeaux.
Merit Man will be the heavy favorite and horse to beat in the Spectacular Bid and jockey Joel Rosario to ride for trainer Bob Hess, Jr. The Florida-bred son of With Distinction won his first two starts at Del Mar and Santa Anita and went into the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 as the 1-to-2 favorite. He led every step but the last, losing a nose decision to longshot Hightail.
“He ran a great race. I think he got to loafing a little bit out there on the lead,” said Hess from California Friday afternoon. “We think we’ve learned a few things about him since then and he’s probably best with a target to run at. I’ll be there tomorrow and we’ll school him in the paddock Sunday.”
Brave Dave is among the most experienced and accomplished in the Spectacular Bid line-up with jockey Paco Lopez re-united with the colt for trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. A homebred son of Put It Back, Brave Dave won his career debut at Calder on June 30 and shipped to Monmouth Park with Plesa’s summer division.
Brave Dave made his second start in the Sanford Stakes (G2) at Saratoga on July 22, finishing fourth behind Bern Identity after prompting the pace and then drifting out to the middle of the track in the stretch. “All I can say about that race is that he seemed to lose focus,” said Plesa. “It wasn’t really a bad race.”
From the Sanford, Brave Dave won three straight in the Sapling Stakes (G3) at Monmouth in on Sept. 2 and the Birdonthewire on Sept. 29 and Jack Price Juvenile on Nov. 10 back at Calder. In one start since, Brave Dave finished second by a length as the 1-to-2 favorite in the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1.
“I have a lot of respect for Jane Cibelli’s horse (Purple Egg) that beat us, but there were some things that worked against us that day. First, he (Brave Dave) had to ship up there and then we had a little bug in our barn at the time and when we scoped him he had a little mucous. He’s 110 percent now."
Little Distorted has run only once but will get solid support with jockey Javier Castellano to ride in his first start for trainer Darrin Miller. The son of Distorted Humor made a flashy debut winning first out at Belmont Park on Oct. 28 by 2 ¼ lengths over for owner Kuehne Racing and trainer Michael Mareina, and was sold privately not long after.
Mareina actually brought the colt to Gulfstream in November for the new owners and looked after him here before sending him to Miller at Payson Park. “I haven’t had him that long, just since Dec. 2,” said Miller this week. “I like what I’ve seen so far. We think this is the next logical move to see where we are with him.
Completing the field for the Spectacular Bid are Natalie Hinson and Rowan Dixon’s Rockyshomerun, Gary Bain; Hurricane Stable’s Cat Five Hurricane, Kent Desormeaux; and Cloud Nine Lumoni’s City of Weston, Luis Saez.