By Ed Gray For Gulfstreampark.com
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Veteran jockey Joe Bravo was a longshot player’s best friend Sunday at Gulfstream Park, orchestrating a pair of upset victories with well-timed rides in the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (G3) and $100,000 Marshua’s River Stakes.
The 39-year-old journeyman from New Jersey notched a front-running triumph aboard Little Mike ($27.80) in the Ft. Lauderdale before guiding Justaroundmidnight ($54 ) to a fast-closing victory in the Marshua’s River. The upsets were registered by the narrow margins of a nose and a half-length, respectively. To see the photo finish pictures click here.
Little Mike made a big splash at 12-1 while making his graded-stakes debut. The late-developing 4-year-old, who blossomed last summer when switched from dirt to turf racing, broke alertly from the starting gate under Joe Bravo to grab an early lead that he would never relinquish in the 1-1/16-mile grass stakes. His backers, though, did have to sweat out a tight photo finish, which would reveal that the Allen Iwinski-trained colt had just enough left at the wire to prevail by the rapidly diminishing margin of a nose over late-charging Blues Street.
“If they were going to outrun us, they were going to have to outrun us,” said Bravo of the pre-race strategy to send the Florida-bred colt to the lead. “It looks like Little Mike is becoming a Big Mike.”
After going winless in his first four starts, all on dirt, Little Mile broke his maiden at first asking on turf at Monmouth before winning three of his next four races. Bravo remained undefeated aboard the son of Spanish Steps, whose only loss on turf came in a minor stakes at Aqueduct with John Velazquez aboard two starts back.
“We put him on the turf because his brother, Little Nick, is a multiple-stakes winner on the turf,” said Iwinski, who expects Little Mike to be a frequent participant in turf stakes at Gulfstream this meeting. “I don’t expect we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet. There were five horses in this race that ran in Grade 1s. I certainly believe this horse is capable of running against anybody on turf.”
After setting solid fractions of :23, :46 3/5, 1:10 1/5 and 1:34 2.5 for the first mile, Little Mike turned in a final clocking of 1:40 2/5 – just fast enough to hold off the Todd Pletcher-trained Blues Street, a 11-1 outsider ridden by Kent Desormeaux.
“It was definitely a tough beat,” Pletcher said. “He ran hard the whole way; he just missed the bob. He should get a lot out of this race.
Smart Bid, ridden by Edgar Prado finished third, another 1-1/4 lengths behind and a head in front of Souper Spectacular, a half-brother to champion mare Zenyatta.
In the Marshua’s River, Bravo was lucky to have a mount in the 1-1/16-mile stakes on turf for fillies and mares. Justaroundmidnight would have run in an entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream on Thursday had she made it off the also-eligible list.
“She was going to run Thursday, but she didn’t get in, so we ran her in here,” trainer Patrick Biancone said. “She’s a very, very talented filly, but needs to stay covered up and sometimes they get into trouble with that style, which is what happened the last time she ran (Monmouth Park on June 26).”
As Persuading, a 36-1 longshot ridden by Jesus Castanon, set the early pace, Justaroundmidnight lagged far behind along the backstretch. Bravo sent the 4-year-old Irish-bred filly between horses on the far turn before swinging her to the outside for the run through the stretch. Justaroundmidnight responded with a long drive and caught determined Persuading just yards from the wire to prevail by a half-length.
The $2 exacta (13-8) paid $1,071.60.
Never Retreat, ridden by Carlos Marquez, finished third, another half-length back. C.S. Silk, the 3-2 favorite, finished 10th after being forced to race wide from her outside post position.
Justaroundmidnight, who was winless in five starts in her native Ireland before breaking her maiden at Monmouth in June and finishing sixth in a Grade 3 stakes two weeks later, ran the distance in 1:40 1/5.
“The hardest part was getting her to draw into a race,” Bravo said. “This was a really good filly that broke her maiden at Monmouth Park. In her next race, they ran her in a stakes and she was the best horse. I was stuck on the rail the whole race with no place to go. This is a good horse.”
Biancone expects the daughter of Danehill Dancer to have a successful career.
“I think she’ll go up to a mile-and-eighth,” he said. “She has a huge turn of foot. We’ll look at the book and find the right spot for her next.”