Saturday Stakes Previews: Santa Anita, Aqueduct, Oaklawn Park & Gulfstream

(Beau Recall will try the hillside course for the first time in the Las Cienegas / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

It will be another busy weekend for Stakes races all over North America — weather permitting, of course. Already this week, both Oaklawn Park in Cold Springs, Ark. and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans had to cancel races due to extremely cold and freezing temps.

But as we head towards the weekend, it appears that the thermometer is starting to trend in the right direction, and there may be a good chance that all the schedule Stakes events will be held in accordance with their regularly scheduled programming.

Let’s take a look at some of the best events slated across the country:

At Santa Anita: G3 Las Cienegas

Competitive in four consecutive Grade I stakes going two turns on grass, classy Beau Recall takes a big drop in class as she heads a field of nine older fillies and mares in the Grade 3, $100,000 Las Cienegas Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course.

In addition to Beau Recall, Claiborne Farm’s homebred Bendable, a winner of the Grade III Desert Stormer Stakes going six furlongs on dirt here three starts back on June 18, will try turf for the first time in the Las Cienegas. She has been on our “Horses to Watch” list for quite some time, merits serious consideration, and will be reunited with Mike Smith.

Beau Recall, owned by the Slam Dunk Racing machine and/or Medallion Racing, is trained by Simon Callaghan. She was fifth, beaten 3 ½ lengths going a mile and a quarter on turf in Santa Anita’s Grade I American Oaks on Dec. 30. But this 4-year-old Irish-bred filly was second, beaten a nose three starts back in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks Aug. 19 and would appear to hold a decided class edge on her competition. She will be trying the Santa Anita downhill turf course for the first time. Ridden by Joe Talamo in seven of her eight stateside starts for Callaghan, she’ll get the services of Corey Nakatani Saturday.

Bendable, owned by Claiborne Farm and trained by Richard Mandella, will get Smith in the saddle this weekend. She was fourth, beaten 4 ½ lengths, in the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 7, and she has an impressive main track resume of 8-4-1-2, with earnings of $236,500. She will be making her turf debut.  “I think she has the breeding for grass,” said Mandella on Sunday.  “A few horses in her family have liked it, so I think it will be interesting to try.  You never know if you don’t try.” 

Here’s a look at the full field:

  1. Coniah – Kent Desormeaux – 120
  2. Bendable–Mike Smith–122
  3. Angel Allie – Evin Roman – 120
  4. Princess Princess – Tyler Conner – 120
  5. Miss Southern Miss – Drayden Van Dyke – 120
  6. Anita Partner – Tyler Baze – 120
  7. Proper Discretion – Flavien Prat – 122
  8. Instant Reflex – Victor Espinoza – 120
  9. Beau Recall – Corey Nakatani – 120

First post time for a nine-race card Saturday is at 12:30 p.m.  Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.  For additional information, please visit santaanita.com.

At Aqueduct:

Grade 3-placed Doyouknowsomething will make his second stakes start off the claim in a field of six lined up for the $100,000 Jazil for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, carded as Race 3 on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.

After being picked up for an $80,000 tag in November, Doyouknowsomething made his debut for the Robertino Diodoro barn in the Queens County on December 23, finishing a close fourth behind longshot winner Zanotti. Prior to the claim, the 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding posted a front-running 6 ½-length victory against optional-claiming company on October 9 at Belmont, where he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

Last spring, Doyouknowsomething hit the board in three straight stakes attempts, including a third-place finish behind Send It In in the Grade 3 Excelsior at the Big A and a runner-up effort to Tu Brutus in the Flat Out at Belmont Park.

Jockey Angel Arroyo, who was aboard for the Queens County, has the return call. The pair will break from the rail.

Owner-trainer David Jacobson will send out Harlan Punch, who has finished in the money in his last eight races. Three of those races produced wins going a mile, including a head victory last time out on December 23. Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles, the 5-year-old gelding by Harlan’s Holiday will be ridden by Dylan Davis from post 5.

Veteran distance runner Turco Bravo will look to rebound from his fourth-place finish in the Claiming Crown Jewel for trainer David Cannizzo. The 9-year-old Chilean-bred gelding was claimed for $32,000 in September and finished second in the 1 5/8-mile Temperence Hill at Belmont and seventh in a one-mile optional claimer this fall before shipping to Gulfstream Park for the Claiming Crown.

Joe Rocco, Jr. will ride Turco Bravo from the outside post 6.

At Oaklawn Park:

Unbeaten Amy’s Challenge is pointing for the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 20 at Oaklawn, trainer Mac Robertson said.

Amy’s Challenge was named Canterbury Park’s “Horse of the Meet” after winning her Aug. 6 career debut by 16 ½ lengths and the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile Stakes Sept. 16 by three-quarters of a length in her last start. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Artie Schiller toppled males in both starts.

“I’d like to make it to the sprint race because it fits good,” Robertson said as he watched Amy’s Challenge in a round pen. “If I don’t run in there, I’m stuck running a mile in three weeks. I was happy getting a work in her last week.”

Following the Dixie Belle, Oaklawn’s stakes series for 3-year-old fillies continues with the $125,000 Martha Washington at a mile Feb. 10.

“I’ve worked her most of the time past the wire,” Robertson said. “She’ll probably do the same thing. If I can get another work in her this week, I’ll be happy.”

Amy’s Challenge earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 91 in her debut and 92 for the Shakopee Juvenile, both ranking among the 11 highest in the country this year for 2-year-olds through Monday.

Gulfstream Park

Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park: Sunshine Millions Classic:

Mr. Jordan is likely to be solidly favored in the Saturday’s $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, but trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. isn’t looking at the 1 1/8-mile race as a layup for his 6-year-old gelding.

Mr. Jordan enters the headliner of four stakes for Florida-bred horses on Saturday’s card in sharp form. After romping to an easy victory in the Millions Classic Preview at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 11, the son of Kantharos turned in a game second-place finish in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Dec. 16.

“He came out of his race 100 percent. My only concern is the distance,” Plesa said. “It’s a mile and an eighth – that’s stretching him. It being a Florida-bred race, we might be able to make up for the distance.”

Mr. Jordan, a graded-stakes winner who has earned nearly $625,000 for David Melin, Leon Ellman and Laurie Plesa, ran in the 2016 Sunshine Millions Classic, coming up short in the stretch to finish 1 ½ lengths behind Mexikoma and 12 lengths clear of third-place finisher Catholic Cowboy.

The Plesa trainee had no trouble negotiating 1 1/16 miles in the Preview, in which he showed the way to a field of Florida-breds on his way to an 11 ½-length triumph. He did come up short in deep stretch in the 1 1/16-mile Harlan’s Holiday, in which he was involved in the pace from the start and held gamely to finish second behind Fear the Cowboy, who is slated to run next in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Jan. 27.

“I think he’s as good as ever. We won’t be able to tell until Saturday if he’s better than ever. I was impressed with his last race because he had to run the whole distance. He didn’t get any kind of a breather,” Plesa said.

“I don’t think the race will come up like that. I think, tactically, this race will come up more to benefit him that than the last race did,” he added. “The sixteenth of a mile longer hopefully will be negated by the trip. Not to take anything away from Florida-breds, because he is one, but it may be a little bit of a relief in class.”

Having done his best at Gulfstream Park West, Mr. Jordan will be seeking his first win in nine starts at Gulfstream Park, where he has finished second in four stakes.

Edgard Zayas, who has been aboard Mr. Jordan for his last two starts, has the return mount. Richard the Great looms as a serious danger after finishing third in the Harlan’s Holiday, a neck behind Mr. Jordan. The Arindel homebred gelding previously finished 11 ½ lengths behind Mr. Jordan while running second in his first start around two turns in the Millions Classic Preview.

In the Harlan’s Holiday, the 6-year-old son of Distorted Humor stalked the pace on the outside of Mr. Jordan, made a strong bid into the stretch and continued on gamely to record his first graded-stakes placing under Paco Lopez.

“That was the second time he went two turns. He ran good. He ran good the first time, but I thought he ran better the second time. I think he can run better this time,” trainer Stanley Gold said. “The winner’s gone, so we have to contend with Mr. Jordan and the others. He deserves a shot in there and Paco wanted to ride him back.”

Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Jay’s Way enters the Sunshine Millions Classic off a game victory around two turns in a Dec. 26 optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream. The 5-year-old son of Gone Astray set the pace, was headed by two horses in deep stretch and fought back to score by a nose over graded-stakes winner J Boy’s Echo.

Emisael Jaramillo has the mount on the Armando De La Cerda trainee.

Sunshine Millions Turf:

William Clifton’s multiple stakes winner Our Way will end a 5 ½-month stretch between races when he returns as the defending champion in Saturday’s $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park.

The Turf for 4-year-olds and up and the $150,000 Filly & Mare Turf for females 4 and older, both at 1 1/16 miles, are among four Florida-bred stakes worth $600,000 in purses on the xx-race Sunshine Millions Day program.

Our Way, trained by Jim Bond, went winless in three starts following his mild upset in last year’s Turf, where he came with a steady drive down the stretch to win by a neck over subsequent multiple graded-stakes winner Enterprising.

Third in the Appleton (G3) and fourth in the Miami Mile (G3), beaten less than two lengths each time, Our Way lost his footing at the start of the 1 1/16-mile Lure Stakes last August at Saratoga and wound up eighth in what would be his 4-year-old finale.

“We kind of put him away after Saratoga. He kind of took a misstep in the Saratoga race and we thought we’d just give him time. He’s been good to us and sometimes you’ve just got to take care of these older horses a little bit more,” Bond said. “I talked with Mr. Clifton and we decided to give him a bit of a break and freshened him up pointing to this race here. It worked out good last year, so we’re hoping to do the same this year. He’s been looking really good.”

Jose Ortiz, who owns two wins on Our Way including the Better Talk Now, has the mount from Post 1 of eight at 119 pounds.

Enterprising went on to win the Fair Grounds Handicap (G3) and Mervin Muniz Handicap (G2) in back-to-back starts following last year’s Turf but failed to reach the winner’s circle again until taking the Turf Preview Nov. 11 at Gulfstream Park West, his most recent start. He is one of two Mike Maker-trained horses in the Turf along with Swagger Jagger, making his first start since being claimed for $35,000 Dec. 6 at Gulfstream.

Manchurian High won successive editions of the Turf in 2015 and 2016 for owner-trainer Lilli Kurtinecz but was unable to make last year’s race. The 10-year-old The Daddy gelding returns to the flat following a pair of races over jumps in Virginia and South Carolina, the latter his maiden steeplechase triumph Nov. 12 at Charleston.

Anne Scott’s Galleon Mast, second in the Turf Preview last fall, will also kick off his season in the Turf. The gelded 5-year-old son of Mizzen Mast reeled off three straight stakes wins over Gulfstream’s turf in the summer and fall, all as the favorite.

Multiple G2 Winner Starship Jubliee Heads Filly & Mare Turf

Starship Jubilee, third as the favorite for Canadian-based trainer and co-owner Kevin Attard in the Claiming Crown Tiara last out, returns to her favorite track in the Filly & Mare Turf.

Also owned by Soli Mehta, Starship Jubilee has earned six of her eight career wins from 12 starts over turf course at Gulfstream, where she was claimed for $16,000 out of a runner-up finish last February. She took a two-length lead into the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile Tiara Dec. 2 before being outrun late to lose by a length.

“She’s obviously run really well over the course. Coming into the Claiming Crown I think the turf had little bit more give than she’s normally used to and she had been off a little bit,” Attard said. “We had missed a race at Woodbine that came off the turf and I think that kind of threw things off for her a little bit. She made the lead at the top of the stretch and looked like she was going to kick on like she usually does and just kind of faltered.

“She’s training really well. She’s had a couple of really good breezes since then,” he added. “We’ve been a little bit more aggressive with her training for this race. This is something we’ve been kind of pointing toward. She had a great blowout the other day and she seems to be coming up to the race in good shape.”

Starship Jubilee won three more starts before leaving South Florida as part of a five-race win streak capped by successive Grade 2 victories in the one-mile Nassau and 1 ¼-mile Dance Smartly, the latter in a dead heat with Rainha Da Bateria. She went into the Tiara off a third-place effort in the Canadian (G2), run at about 1 1/8 miles.

Jose Lezcano will ride Starship Jubilee from Post 4 of 10 at highweight of 123 pounds.

William Rainbow’s homebred Surprise Wedding returns to Gulfstream off an impressive effort Dec. 16 in the City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, where she rated off the pace and came with a four-wide rally to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

The 4-year-old High Cotton filly made her only two turf starts last fall, finishing sixth in the Nov. 4 Cellars Shiraz at Gulfstream Park West after being beaten a nose in the 5 ½-furlong Miss Gracie Stakes Sept. 16 at Gulfstream. She beat older horses in a second-level optional claiming allowance going seven furlongs over Gulfstream’s main track last August.

Surprise Wedding will carry 121 pounds including jockey Jesus Rios, up in the City of Orlando, from Post 8.

Completing the field are Bonita, winner of the 2017 Wasted Tears at Gulfstream; Daddy’s Boo, a 15-time career winner unraced since Oct. 22 trained by Larry Rivelli; 2016 Panama City winner Josdesnaimaux; Katina, who edged Surprise Wedding in the Miss Gracie; Bitacora, Elizabeth Aurora, Eva London, Graceful Heart.

Sunshine Millions Sprint:

The next stop on X Y Jet’s comeback trail is scheduled for Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the resurgent 6-year-old gelding is entered to run in the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, one of four stakes for Florida-breds on the card.

X Y Jet, one of the world’s elite sprinters in 2016 before going to the sideline for 13 months with a knee injury that required surgery, made a most promising return to action at Gulfstream Dec. 23 with a front-running victory in the Mr. Prospector (G3). Owned by Rockingham Ranch and Gelfenstein Farm, X Y Jet had been sidelined since finishing third in the De Francis Dash (G3) at Laurel in November 2016.

The gray son of Kantharos ran six furlongs in 1:09.45 while finishing a half-length ahead of a tenacious First Growth after a hotly contested stretch run.

“He came out of the race great. He is in great condition. I’m looking forward to seeing him run on Saturday,” trainer Jorge Navarro said.

X Y Jet started to blossom into a world-class sprinter in the fall of 2015, winning back-to-back optional claiming allowance races before capturing the Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream by 9 ¼ lengths in 1:08.56. In 2016, He went on to win the Sunshine Millions Sprint by 4 ¼ lengths in 1:08.58 and the 6 ½-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) in 1:15.95. His winning streak came to an end when he finished second by a neck in the $2 million Golden Shaheen (G1) in Dubai.

Visiting the winner’s circle with X Y Jet again after his Mr. Prospector victory was a somewhat emotional moment for his trainer.

“It was because of my appreciation for the horse and what he’s done for me and my family,” Navarro said. “He took me to Dubai, I’ll never forget that. Coming off that layoff and to win a stake…”

A return visit to Dubai with X Y Jet may well be in the future.

“Why not? He seemed to like it,” Navarro said. “We’re going to go step by step, like we did with his last one; he’s ready for this one. We’ll take pictures, make sure everything is the right way. Remember that was his third knee surgery. We’ll baby him.”

Emisael Jaramillo has the return mount Saturday.

He tried. That’s all I can say – he tried.”

KENT DESORMEAUX, Synthesis, third
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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