A serious Derby prospect was expected to emerge from Wednesday's eighth race at Gulfstream Park, and that indeed turned out to be the case.
While the bettors fully expected Honor Code, their 1-2 favorite, to prevail victorious from the 1 1/16-mile $75,000 allowance race for 3-year-olds, Social Inclusion distinguished himself as a hot prospect for the Triple Crown and possibly the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park on March 29.
The Manny Azpurua-trained Social Inclusion never let Honor Code in the game while blazing around the Gulfstream track by himself and pulling away to a 10-length decision in the track-record time of 1:40.97 under jockey Luis Contreras.
“He was doing it so easy. I wasn't doing anything. He's a tremendous horse,” said Contreras, who hand rode Social Inclusion, the 7-5 second choice, across the finish line.
The son of Pioneerof Nile was making only his second lifetime start, following up a 7 ½-length maiden victory on Feb. 22 in spectacular fashion by eclipsing the track record of 1:41 set by Devil's Cave on Feb. 16.
“From the first time we trained him, we knew he was something special,” said owner Ron Sanchez of Rontos Racing Stable Corp. “The next step, we're going to wait and see how he comes out of the race. We'll take our time. We'll wait until next week and decide, but we definitely want to go to the (Kentucky) Derby.”
The 85-year-old Azpurua, a South Florida mainstay, declined to commit to a next start, but expressed a belief that the Kentucky-bred colt will only get better with each start.
“I really like this horse and I like everything he's done since I've got him. I'm so pleased with him and I believe he's going to keep improving,” Azpurua said. “I told my wife before the race, ‘You're going to see him break out of the gate and they're never going to catch him. They'll be 10 lengths behind.'”
Shug McGaughey-trained Honor Code, making his first start since winning the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct last November, finished second, exactly 10 lengths behind the winner and 17 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher We're All Set.
“I knew how the race was going to set up. (Social Inclusion) had speed and he had two 35(second works) since he ran, so I knew he would go. The track was really fast this morning, and horses ran 1:08-and-change earlier in the day,” McGaughey said. “I'm disappointed he didn't win, but we got a race into him and I don't think (jockey Javier Castellano) killed him by any means. We'll see if he goes forward off of this. I think the horse that won in a very, very special horse.”
Castellano was hardly downcast after the defeat of Honor Code, whose training had been interrupted by bruised ankles in January before moving from Payson Park to Gulfstream to resume training.
“The track had been playing pretty fast. It's hard to catch up to the horses that go out on the lead. With a small field, sometimes it's hard with my horse's style he likes to come from behind. I had to use him a little bit to be tactical and he responded,” said Castellano, who rode five winners Wednesday to eclipse his own Gulfstream season record of 112 wins. “I'm very fortunate with the way he did it today. It was a good performance. Unfortunately we got beat. But I like to look at the big picture – his season is just starting and I'm pleased with the way he came back.”
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