HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - The current Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park has already showcased several promising maiden winners that look to be prime candidates for the $1-million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1), and Saturday's eighth race may be the coming out party for additional future stars.
The $47,000 maiden special weight test, carded at six furlongs, attracted a 10-horse field and will feature the debut of Whats Up Big Guy, a son of Macho Uno owned by Eric Fein and trained by Peter Walder.
Fein was the co-owner of Musket Man, who won the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and Illinois Derby (G2) in 2009 en route to third-place finishes in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1). He purchased Whats Up Big Guy for $70,000 as a yearling in 2012, when the big gray colt wound up being the highest-priced yearling by Macho Uno that year.
Whats Up Big Guy has attracted his share of attention in the mornings, earning bullets for each of his last two workouts at Gulfstream. The 3-year-old worked six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 on Feb. 24 and followed that with a half-mile move in :46 4/5 from the gate on March 5.
"The barn calls him 'The Freak,'" Walder offered. "I hope he's the real deal. Hopefully, he'll show what he really is on Saturday. He's just really smart. I was just telling the owner that he does everything right. We schooled him and he was great, we took him to the gate...he does everything like an older horse. He doesn't balk at anything, doesn't turn a hair, and he's very smart.
"On top of that, every time I work him he just beats the crap out of any horse I work him with," Walder added. "I've worked him with six older horses. When he worked three-quarters in (a minute and) 11, he spotted an older horse eight lengths and beat him. How often do you see a 3-year-old that hasn't started yet work three-quarters in 11? He came back and worked 46-and-two out of the gate the other day with a horse that's already won. He's shown us the signs that he's a runner in the morning, and hopefully that translates to the afternoon." Whats Up Big Guy is out of the Royal Academy mare Lady Prantlack, whose half-brother Raffie's Majesty was beaten by two noses when third in the 1998 Travers Stakes (G1). They were both produced by the Irish-bred mare Raffinierte, whose career highlight was a runner-up effort in the The Very One Handicap on the turf at Gulfstream.
"When Eric first gave him to me, he told me that he's got grass breeding on the bottom side, but with the way he's been working and it being March, the last thing you're thinking with a 3-year-old is grass racing at this time of year," Walder said. "Obviously, we have that in the back of our minds at some point, but being by Macho Uno, he'll stretch out. The further he goes in his works, the stronger he gets. I'm really looking forward to it." Jockey John Velazquez has the mount on What's Up Big Guy, who drew post four and is listed at 5-1 on the morning line. While Walder is optimistic that the sophomore will visit the winner's circle on Saturday, he regards the six-furlong test as a stepping stone.
"If he wins on Saturday, that'd be great, but it's more about getting him a good experience," Walder noted. "If he sits a trip and gets second, and then we stretch him out and he wins, then so be it. It's a long year and there's a lot of money to be made for 3-year-olds. There's some nice ones popping out, like (Manny) Azpurua's horse (Social Inclusion, on Wednesday), but by the same token, they're dropping out by the day, not the week. If he's as good as I think he is, we'll take our time and pick our spots, and hopefully have a long, fun, happy summer." Social Inclusion scored first out on Feb. 22 at Gulfstream before making headlines with a track-record setting allowance victory this past Wednesday, and could make his next start in the Florida Derby. Other sophomores looking to make their initial stakes forays in Gulfstream's marquee event include Constitution and Anchor Down, a pair of Todd Pletcher-trained colts that are perfect in two starts at the meet thus far.
Whats Up Big Guy will have plenty of company in the starting gate. Also in the field is American Bond, a Tapit colt trained by Pletcher on behalf of owner-breeder Siena Farm. Produced by graded stakes winner Prospective Saint, the 3-year-old will be ridden by leading jockey Javier Castellano and will break from the eight hole. Favored at 3-1 on the morning line is A Touch of Poetry, who returned from a six-month layoff to finish second in a Gulfstream maiden on Feb. 12. Trained by Nick Zito for owner My Meadowview Farm, the Birdstone colt is out of Overandabeauty, a stakes-placed sister to leading sire Tapit. Apprentice jockey Dylan Davis will be in the irons.
Drawn on the inside is Tuneintobow, a son of Concorde's Tune who has been pitted against buzzsaws in each of his past two outings. The Michael Yates trainee was runner-up to Anchor Down on Jan. 25 before finishing third to Social Inclusion on Feb. 22. Hugo Sanchez has the mount once more.