(Pappacap / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
It will be a bigger and more mature version of Rustlewood Farm, Inc.’s Grade 2-winning homebred Pappacap that shows up Saturday at Gulfstream Park to launch his comeback and wrap up his sophomore season facing older horses for the first time in the $125,000 Mr. Prospector (G3).
The Mr. Prospector for 3-year-olds and up sprinting seven furlongs is the fourth of six stakes, five graded, worth $850,000 in purses on an 11-race New Year’s Eve program that begins with a first post of 12:10 p.m.
Pappacap won the six-furlong Best Pal (G2) in his second career start last summer and ended his juvenile season with runner-up finishes in the American Pharoah (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to stamp him as a Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect.
By Gun Runner, who followed his 2017 Horse of the Year campaign with a career-ending victory in the 2018 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream, Pappacap has gone winless in six starts this year, running third in the Jan. 22 Lecomte (G3) and second in the Pat Day Mile (G2) May 7 and Woody Stephens (G2) June 11.
Trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, Pappacap has not raced since finishing fourth in the 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam (G2) July 31 at Saratoga. He returned to the work tab in mid-November at Casse’s Ocala farm and has had three timed breezes since Dec. 10 at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County.
“At one time we thought he was a Derby prospect, and that just didn’t work out. His last race at Saratoga, we cut him back a little and he ran OK but … something hit him in his eye and after the race he couldn’t even open his eye. We kind of felt like his last race was not a true indication of his ability,” Casse said.
“We just decided to give him a break. He’d been going long and hard from a 2-year-old, running in the Breeders’ Cup and then trying to make the Derby. He’s come back bigger and stronger than ever,” he added. “He’s training extremely well right now.”
Both Casse and his South Florida-based assistant, Nick Tomlinson, have been impressed with the way Pappacap has flourished with the time off. He drew Post 4 in a field of 12 and will have the services of jockey Joel Rosario.
“Nick probably hadn’t seen him since he had him when he broke his maiden as a 2-year-old. He’s changed. He’s matured and he looks great,” Casse said. “He’s been running against some good horses, he’s training really well and I put him in this spot. He was ready to run, and I wanted to run him.”
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who captured his first Championship Meet title last winter, entered the pair of County Final and Wind of Change. Ken Copenhaver’s County Final will be racing for the first time since being claimed for $80,000 out of a determined head victory sprinting five furlongs Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs.
The gelded 4-year-old son of Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow, placed third in the 5 ½-furlong Da Hoss on the Colonial Downs turf Sept. 6, has one second in two previous tries at seven furlongs. He was fifth in his most recent attempt in a June 25 optional claiming allowance at Churchill.
“The horse is training well. Seven-eighths doesn’t seem to be his best distance but training-wise he’s showing that it shouldn’t be a problem,” Joseph said. “Going on his form, that’s a concern, obviously, but we figured we would train him and see how he does and he’s sold us in his training to give it a try.”
County Final won the 2020 Tyro at Monmouth Park and has placed in four other stakes including the 2020 Bashford Manor (G3) and 2021 Woodford (G2). Jose Ortiz will ride from Post 11.
“He’s held good company and he’s run some races fast enough at different distances that would be good enough to win the race,” Joseph said. “The seven-eighths is a question mark, but the way he’s training we felt like he deserves a shot.”
Daniel Alonso’s Wind of Change is looking to snap a seven-race losing streak dating back to his victory in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector last May at Monmouth Park. A Group 3 winner in his native Brazil, this will be the 7-year-old son of Forestry’s third straight attempt at Gulfstream’s Mr. Prospector having run fourth in 2020 and fifth last year.
“He’s never delivered the way we thought that he’d deliver,” Joseph said. “We’re going to ride him a bit differently this time and be a little more patient with him. There’s no reason why he stops in his races because he doesn’t do that in the morning, so we’re going to be riding him a bit different, tactical-wise. We worked him that way and he worked lights out. Hopefully that could be the trick to getting the job done.”
Edgard Zayas gets the riding assignment from Post 6 on Wind of Change, entered to make his 29th career start but only his third this year. He exits back-to-back thirds in optional claiming allowances at Gulfstream, the latter going a mile Nov. 12.
“He had some time off and once he came back it was just the way the races fell on the calendar,” Joseph said. “He’s held really good company and he’s run some good races, he just hasn’t broken through at the graded level. I still strongly believe that he could break through at the graded level, so hopefully this weekend is his chance.”
Godolphin homebred Prevalence won the seven-furlong Commonwealth (G3) over a sloppy Keeneland surface April 9 and will be making just his second start since finishing seventh in the Churchill Downs (G1) May 7. Trained by Brendan Walsh, he returned to be fourth in an open 6 ½-furlong allowance Oct. 19 at Keeneland and has been working steadily at Palm Meadows since. He is three-for-four lifetime at Gulfstream, winning his first two starts by 11 ½ combined lengths and rolling by 4 ¾ in an optional claiming allowance March 5.
Rounding out the field are multiple stakes winners Speaking, Steal Sunshine and Surly Furious; Sibelius, winner of the Sept. 10 Lite the Fuse at Pimlico; Dean Delivers, first or second in eight of nine tries at Gulfstream including a runner-up finish in the Feb. 5 Swale (G2); Uncle Ernie, riding a two-race win streak; and last out winners No Que No and Seal Beac
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