Gulfstream Park News & Notes

Gulfstream Park News & Notes


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Shug McGaughey is set to saddle Mr Speaker for Saturday’s $400,000 Holy Bull (G2), an important prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but the Hall of Fame trainer could well come up with another prospect for the spring classics earlier on the 11-race program.            

The McGaughey-trained Top Billing is scheduled to go to post in a strong entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds in the fourth race. The winner of his debut at Laurel by 5 ¼ lengths in November, the son of Curlin impressed at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 3, when he encountered a less-than-ideal trip before closing with a rush to miss catching the highly regarded Todd Pletcher-trained Commissioner by a neck. “He’s been doing really well,” McGaughey said. “He’s had a couple of works since his race. Everything looks good.”            

Top Billing’s performance in the 1 1/16-mile race could lead to a stakes appearance in a subsequent start. “It would depend on how he ran. If he made the lead and just got beat or he came running and in trouble like he was the last time, I might (run in a stake). But if he gets beat, I still have the conditions and he doesn’t necessarily have to run in a stake,” McGaughey said. “Of course, if he were to win, he’ll have to run in a stake.”

Top Billing and Mr Speaker schooled in the Gulfstream paddock and walking ring during the first race on Thursday’s card. Mr Speaker, who captured the $100,000 Dania Beach (G3) on turf last time out, is set to make his debut on dirt in the Holy Bull. While McGaughey will discover if the son of Pulpit can transfer his abundant talent from grass to dirt and is ready to continue on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, McGaughey is confident in his colt’s credentials for classic distances.            

“He’ll run as far as you want him to run, I think. He settles good. His female family is all stamina,” McGaughey said. “The one thing that is encouraging about him is that he’s such an athletic kind of horse.”             McGaughey, who is also pointing Remsen winner Honor Code to the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream on Feb. 22, won the Kentucky Derby (G1) last year with Florida Derby winner Orb.             “The one thing I found out about last year is that everything has to go right. Last year, everything went right. When we wanted to work, we got to work. The work was right. Everything went right. When we shipped to Kentucky, it all went fine,” he said. “Whether that’s going to happen this year, who knows?”                         Stately Defence Makes Her Stakes Debut in Forward Gal            

Coming off a third-place finish in her last start, Stately Defence will be making her stakes debut on dirt in Saturday’s $200,000 Forward Gal (G2) for 3-year-old fillies.            

“She’s coming into the race very good. No complaints,” trainer David Fawkes said. “She tries hard, this filly.”            

Owned by Norma McKathan, the dark brown or bay daughter of Grade 1-winning sprinter First Defence returned to the main track in her most recent outing, a one-mile optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 2, where she gave up the lead late and finished two lengths behind highly regarded filly Penwith.            

“She ran a good race last time,” Fawkes said. “The Forward Gal didn’t come up real tough, so that was part of the decision. The other thing was last time, she kind of inherited the lead a little earlier than I would have liked to have seen her.            

“I don’t think that’s her running style. I think she needs to sit back a little bit so, hopefully, things will turn around in here and she’ll run a better race.”            

Fourth choice in the program at 6-1, Stately Defense is the most experienced of six horses entered for the Forward Gal, making her sixth career start and third on the main track at Gulfstream, where she has a win, a second and a third. She had one sharp work since her last start, a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 on Jan. 18, and cuts back to seven furlongs for the Forward Gal. “I think it’s going to be a benefit,” Fawkes said. “That way, she won’t be pressing the lead so early.” After running for a tag in her debut, Stately Defence broke her maiden by nine lengths on Oct. 19 then ran twice on the Gulfstream turf, finishing fourth after a rough trip in the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes, beaten 4 ¾ lengths.            

“Early on I thought she was OK, but we ran her one time for a price,” Fawkes said. “She didn’t show as much early as she has now. She’s showing more and more the older she gets. She’s going in the right direction.”                        

Rispoli Home and Resting            

Jockey Matt Rispoli, injured in a three-horse spill at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 20, is back home after being discharged from Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood on Thursday night.            

Rispoli’s agent, Jay Rushing, Jr., said Friday morning that the 24-year-old Rispoli suffered a concussion, broken right tibia and four fractures to his face, including his cheek and orbital bone.            

Rushing said doctors told he and Rispoli that recovery and rehab could take up to four months. They are scheduled to return to Memorial Regional for a follow-up appointment on Jan. 27.            

Because of the location of the break, Rispoli is also facing a possible procedure to stabilize his leg, which could curtail his riding career. Rispoli has five wins from 70 mounts at the current Gulfstream meet.            

“We have to go back on Monday to check on surgery,” Rushing said. “The break is higher up in his tibia. We’re trying not to have the surgery. If he has to have a rod put in his leg, he may not be able to ride because it could affect the way he squats on a horse.”            

Rispoli was hurt when his mount, 10-year-old mare Suzzona, clipped heels with another horse on the far turn of a five-furlong turf sprint while racing near the lead along the inside. Rispoli was thrown to the ground in the path of several incoming horses including Cameo Lady and Unseen Visitor, both of which also went down.            

Jockeys Luis Saez and Paco Lopez walked away from the spill with no injuries, while Rispoli was taken directly to the hospital.            

“He doesn’t remember anything from the fall on. Looking at the replay he was very, very lucky,” Rushing said. “He’s a young kid, so hopefully he can heal a little faster. He’s a good kid. I hope everything works out for him.”            

Leading rider at Penn National in 2012, Rispoli began his career in 2009 on the Maryland and Pennsylvania circuits. Injuries from a car accident sidelined him for 1 ½ years, but he returned to ride full-time in 2011.            

Rispoli has 432 wins and nearly $9.1 million in earnings from 2,792 lifetime starts. He earned the first graded stakes victory of his career in the My Charmer (G3) at Calder on Dec. 7.            

“Doctors said the break would take two to three months to heal. With rehab and everything, we figure at least four months,” Rushing said. “Unless we go back on Monday and they say something else, right now from what they’re telling us that’s what it sounds like.”