Pay Any Price, a record holder on the Gulfstream Park turf course, returned from a five-month layoff to score a half-length victory in the $110,000 Canterbury Stakes on Saturday's opening-day program of the 2017-2018 Championship Meet.
The Canterbury, a five-furlong turf dash for horses that started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2016, was one of nine Claiming Crown stakes run for a total of $1.1 million in purses.
Pay Any Price, who set a Gulfstream record while running five furlongs on turf in 53.61 seconds to win the Silks Run Stakes last March, had been pointed toward the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar Nov. 4 before sustaining a foot injury.
The 7-year-old gelding, a strong 1-2 favorite in a field of 12, broke on top under jockey Edgard Zayas and set fast fractions of 21.43 (seconds), and 44.54 for the first half mile to maintain a clear lead at the top of the stretch. Oak Bluffs, a 35-1 longshot ridden by Paco Lopez, cut the corner off the final turn and made steady progress through the stretch but fell short of catching the odds-on favorite, who dug in late to win his 10th career race in 17 starts.
“I had a very good start. I had to rush him out of the gate a little bit. There was a lot of speed in this race, but he's a one-way horse, which is to just go to the front and I let him know what he knows to do,” Zayas said. “I pushed him to the lead and after I got the lead, I tried to relax him for a little bit and when I thought it was time to go, I let him go. I think at the end he slowed down a little bit. He spent a couple months not running, but he was all heart at the end. Oak Bluffs was gaining a lot of ground on him down the stretch, but once he got close to us, Pay Any Price wouldn't let him pass.”
Owned by Averill Racing and Matties Racing, Pay Any Price ran five furlongs on turf in 56.49. Oak Bluffs finished a lengths in from of Sir Navigator.
“He was probably about 75 percent today. Health-wise he was 100 percent but fitness-wise he was about 75 percent,” owner Richard Averill said. “There wasn't a doubt in my mind he'd be on the lead coming down (the stretch). He held off. He's got heart. He's an awesome horse.”
Averill said the comeback victory was somewhat bittersweet.
“We wanted to go to California and run in the Breeders' Cup, but we did right by the horse and gave him time. We tried to make it and we pushed and it just didn't happen,” he said. “He'll be back.”
First Growth Provides Trainer with Happy Homecoming in Express
Trainer Odin Londono Jr. enjoyed a happy homecoming at Gulfstream Park Saturday when he saddled First Growth for a victory in the $110,000 Express.
Londono, who shipped First Growth from Ohio for the six-furlong race for horses that raced for a claiming price of $8,000 or less grew up in the Miami area.
“My father rode here, so I'm from here. I was born and raised here,” he said. “I haven't been here for a long time. I took a shot, and we were able to take it.”
Ridden by Gerardo Corrales, First Growth ($11.80) relaxed off the pace before making a sweeping move to the lead on the turn into the homestretch. The 5-year-old gelding, who was claimed for $5,000 in January, drew off to score by 3 ½ lengths, running six furlongs in 1:09.61.
“It was a perfect ride. I told [Corrales], 'If we're three-lengths, four-lengths off of it, we've got it,' because I know what he's capable of,” Londono said. “He's a horse that has improved every race, so I took a shot.
Blings Express, a career winner of 21 races, finished second after pressing the pace, 1 ½ lengths ahead of Mr. Manning.
Twocubanbrothersu a True 'Iron Horse' in Gulfstream Win
Twocubanbrothersu ($10.20) registered a dominating front-running triumph in Saturday's $110,000 Iron Horse at Gulfstream Park, truly living up to the name of the 1 1/16-mile race for horses that have started for a claiming price of $8,000 or less.
Owned by trainer John Rigattieri and Stephen Derany, the 7-year-old gelding registered his 20th career victory in his 50th start, setting fractions of 23.72 (seconds), 46.98 and 1:10.56 for six furlongs before pulling away to a 1 ½-length victory in 1:47.22.
“I know this horse very well, he's been training very well. Today was a big field and he likes to be clear on the lead. The plan was to try to get him up close. He broke sharp and I sent him a little bit and he responded great,” jockey Daniel Centeno said. “I saw the favorite and I thought he was going to fight for second but my horse likes to fight and he ran big today.”
Claimed for $6,250 at Tampa Bay Downs in May 2015, Twocubanbrothersu set the pace before finishing second in the 2015 Iron Horse before sitting out the Claiming Crown last year.
“John said he was a late-bloomer, and he was obviously right. He made $100,000 the first year we had him and he had a few injuries,” Derany said. “We stuck with him and now he's starting to get healthy again. His [speed figures] are going up. He's 7 years old and still going up.”
Since being claimed by Rigattieri, who has saddled nearly 2,700 winners during his career, Twocubanbrothersu has won 12 of 21 starts and has finished 1-2-3 in all but two races.
Rich Daddy, the 5-2 favorite ridden by Corey Lanerie, closed from off the pace to finish second 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Solve and jockey Paco Lopez.
Cautious Giant Runs Big in $110,000 Rapid Transit
Moshe Mark's Cautious Giant collected his second straight win, collaring front-running Manhattan Mischief in deep stretch and steadily edging clear to a length victory in the $110,000 Rapid Transit.
Ridden by Emisael Jaramillo for trainer Victor Barboza Jr., Cautious Giant ($11.40) ran seven furlongs in 1:22.78. Manhattan Mischief was a clear second, with Crocodile Charlie third. Defending champion Shaft of Light, the 7-5 favorite, broke poorly and raced in traffic throughout, finishing 10th.
Cautious Giant was making his second start since being claimed by Barboza for $16,000 from a runner-up finish as the favorite Sept. 24 at Gulfstream. Earlier this year, the 6-year-old gelding found himself running in graded stakes, finishing off the board in the Charles Town Classic (G2) and Whitney (G1), the latter behind expected Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
Jaramillo settled Cautious Giant in mid-pack as Manhattan Mischief and Crocodile Charlie dueled through fractions of 22.50 second and 45.05. Jaramillo found room between horses leaving the backstretch to advance his position, swung wide turning for home and steadily gained ground down the lane.
Cautious Giant was claimed for $16,000 in September and won at first asking for his connections in an optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 5.
“We had breezed this horse twice since claiming him and thought today was a good option to race him,” Barboza said. “It was my plan every day to run in the Claiming Crown. We will look to run him in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope [Feb. 24} next.”
Connections Toast 'Martini' In Tiara
Multiple Grade 1-placed Martini Glass found a seam along the rail to get into contention, fought to the lead in mid-stretch and held off a furious late bid from Peru to capture Saturday's $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Tiara for fillies and mares 3 and up which had started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2016 was the seventh of nine starter stakes worth $1.11 million on the 19th Claiming Crown Day program highlighting Opening Day of Gulfstream's 2017-18 Championship Meet.
Co-owned by Vince Campanella and trainer Keith Nations, Martini Glass ($6) won the head bob with Peru to win by a nose in 1:46.65 over a firm turf course. Multiple Grade 2 winner Starship Jubilee, the 7-5 favorite, was third by a length, with Arthemisa another 1 ¾ lengths back in fourth.
Sackatoga Stables' Flattermefabulous, sent off at 50-1, ran the opening quarter-mile in 25.89 seconds and the half in 51.98, tracked closest by Starship Jubliee ahead of a tightly bunched pack in pursuit. Jockey Paco Lopez was able to save ground inside on Martini Glass and closed in on the leaders down the backstretch, with Valedictorian to her outside.
“I was lucky I had great position,” Lopez said. “In the first turn to the three-eighths pole she was a little tired. I wanted to come out a little and she was pushed a little, but I knew she would be tough. [Peru] came flying outside. It was a good thing [Valedictorian] didn't let me go out early or [Peru] would have caught me.”
Martini Glass moved past Starship Jubliee in the final eighth of a mile as Peru, who dropped jockey Julien Leparoux prior to loading in the gate then got shuffled back to last at the break, made a bold move on the far outside and closed steadily to the wire.
“I thought we lost. Me and my wife, Cheryl, were just standing there,” Nations said. “We didn't know whether to go to where they unsaddle or go to the winner's circle. We got caught in between and all of a sudden I looked up and saw the No. 4 up there and I was shocked. It looked like we ran second but she got her nose down in time.”
It was the eighth win from 19 career starts and second in turf for Martini Glass, who was fourth by less than four lengths in the All Along Stakes Sept. 16 at Laurel Park in her previous grass attempt. She ran second to champion Songbird in the Delaware Handicap (G1) in July and Romantic Vision in the Spinster (G2), both on dirt, the latter Oct. 8 in her last start.
“We always thought she would be better on turf. She's probably not. She's probably better on the dirt,” Nations said. “We have some options. We don't even know what her best distance is. It's crazy. She ran within a length of Songbird going a mile and a quarter, and she ran a really powerful race going seven-eighths.”
Blue Bahia Quickest of All in $110,000 Distaff Dash
Dennis Drazin's stakes winner Blue Bahia rated just off a blistering pace and came with a powerful run down the stretch to sprint clear for a 2 ¾-length win in the $110,000 Distaff Dash.
It was the second straight win and third in four starts for Blue Bahia ($5.20) since being claimed for $30,000 in April at Gulfstream, one start after the 4-year-old filly was claimed away from trainer Jason Servis.
Eila, fourth in last year's Distaff Dash coming from off the pace, broke on top and took the field through a quarter-mile in 21.93 seconds and a half in 44.97. Blue Bahia, favored at 8-5 in the field of 13, stalked to the leader's outside until taking over once straightened for home, finishing up in 56.89 seconds for five furlongs on the grass.
“We really didn't want to go right to the lead. She's got speed but we wanted to keep her in the pocket and it just went perfect,” Servis' assistant Carlos David said. “Paco did a great job. I was a little worried they were going a little fast but he was patient and she got the job done, so we're happy.”
My Sweet Dove rallied for second, three-quarters of a length ahead of 2016 Distaff Dash runner-up My Sister Caro. Island Reward finished fourth.
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