Jackson Bend to Make 2012 Debut Saturday in Hal's Hope
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Just when it looked like his best days were behind him, Jackson Bend’s career took a turn for the better last year.
Trainer Nick Zito added a sprinting star to his stable by subtracting a turn from the gritty Florida-bred’s racing regimen.
Winless in 12 starts since sweeping the 2009 Florida Stallion Series – although highly competitive against the best horses in the country – Jackson Bend broke through with back-to-back stakes scores last summer while cutting back to one-turn distances.
Thus, Jackson Bend will be making his 2012 debut around one turn in next Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old son of Hear No Evil has been training sharply for his first start since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more. He looks tremendous,” Zito said. “I just hope it’s not too tough a race first time back. It’s a good race to come back in, and that’s what we need.”
Jackson Bend was a major force on 2010 Road to the Triple Crown with runner-up finishes in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Wood Memorial (G1) before a sharp third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (G1). Yet, the kick he showed while sweeping the Florida Stallion Series, which was contested around one turn except the In Reality final, was lacking until he started in the seven-furlong James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga last July.
Jackson Bend became a Grade 1 stakes winner six weeks later with a dazzling 3 ¾ -length victory in the seven-furlong Forego at Saratoga. He completed his 2011 campaign with a second-place finish to heavily favored Uncle Mo in the one-turn, one-mile Kelso Handicap (G2) at Belmont and third-place finish in the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs.
“Obviously, he’s best at seven furlongs. I mean, he’s 2-for-2. The reason I’m starting at a mile is I’m obviously not going to run six furlongs – and seven furlongs, it’s impossible to get a race,” Zito said. “He’s a good miler. He ran second to Uncle Mo, and if Uncle Mo wasn’t in it, he would have won it.”
Zito reported that he expects Jackson Bend to make an impact on the sprinting division again this year.
“He comes to work every day with a smile. He comes to work happy. If you start stretching him out, he’ll get the way he was,” said Zito, noting his preference to keep Jackson Bend in one-turn races.
After Jackson Bend established himself as a force in the sprinting division last year, his trainer was surprised that his Grade 1 stakes-winner was snubbed by Eclipse Award voters, who didn’t include him among the three finalists for the 2011 award for top sprinter. Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor Caleb’s Posse and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready proved more popular among Eclipse voters.
“I thought he’d finish second for sure,” Zito said. “I don’t know why he isn’t a finalist. I was a little disappointed in that.”
With a year of one-turn races ahead of him, Jackson Bend can begin to state his case for 2012 honors in the Hal’s Hope.