When Catherinethegreat rolled to an impressive 4 ¼ length triumph in the Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga Race Course July 20, John Oxley's homebred daughter of Uncaptured flattered Gulfstream Park's Spring/Summer racing program as an increasingly attractive launching pad for promising 2-year-olds
The Spring/Summer Meet has strengthened every year since Gulfstream Park went to a year-round racing schedule in 2013, giving Florida's breeding industry a much needed boost while offering greatly enhanced opportunities for 2-year-olds to get started on their careers.
“I've been impressed. I think Gulfstream has done a wonderful job. You know the story – if you build it, they will come. If you put the purses up there, they will come,” said trainer Mark Casse, who saddled Catherinethegreat for her Schuylerville triumph. “The Florida-bred program has become much more lucrative, and every day racing is good there.”
Catherinethegreat debuted at Gulfstream Park May 26 with a second-place finish behind Nancysaidso, a next-out winner who looms as a major threat in next Saturday's $100,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Sire Stakes. Oxley's Florida-bred filly came right back to 'easily' graduate by 10 ¼ lengths in a $65,000 maiden special weight race for open company June 23 before shipping to Saratoga.
“For us, home is Ocala, so it's four, five hours away. We can train at our training center and ship horses down. I find it to be a great place to run and get horses started,” Casse said. “We started Heavenly Love there last year and she went on and won the Alcibiades, a Grade 1.
“We have a lot of young horses. My theory is to get them started. I send them all over the place and get them started. The ones who earn their way to the big leagues, go there. We sort it out that way. I like getting horses started. I'm not crazy about winning first time, but we do win one now and then.”
Casse maintains a year-round string at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training center in Palm Beach County.
“We've had tremendous luck coming off Gulfstream and running. It's a dream come true for me,” he said. “I'm a Florida boy and to have quality racing so close year round is very special.”
A day after Casse saddled Catherinethegreat for her graded-stakes victory trainer Todd Pletcher visited the Saratoga winner's circle with Sombeyay, a Gulfstream Park alumni who captured the Sanford (G3). Starlight Stable's Sombeyay, who captured his debut at Gulfstream Park by 6 ¼ lengths April 27, ran a troubled second in the June 9 Tremont at Belmont Park before capturing the Sanford.
“That's exactly what we try to do with a horse like him. My dad had him at the training center at Ocala. He came in and we felt like he'd be early. We were able to break his maiden at Gulfstream,” said Pletcher, whose South Florida string is based at Palm Beach Downs. “Maybe he got a little unlucky in the Tremont when he was second. But having that experience set him up well for the Sanford.”
Pletcher, the defending 15-time training titlist during Gulfstream's Championship Meet, is maintaining a year-round presence in South Florida for the first time this year after an extended stay into June last year.
“The program at Gulfstream is getting better and better. Last year, we looked at it very closely and ended up leaving in the middle of June. We were back by the middle of September, so this year we said we might as well stay year round. It seems to be working out well. We've got horses that can get some activity down there and others ship north,” Pletcher said. “My biggest concern was how the horses would handle the ship from South Florida to New York. Actually, in some cases, they've responded really well in a little cooler environment.
“What we've been doing the last two years has been to bring a lot of the babies down to Palm Beach Downs to get to know them and to see how precocious they may or may not be. Some we prepare down there and they run at Gulfstream and others we ship north to run at Aqueduct, Belmont or Saratoga,” Pletcher added. “Obviously, the Florida-breds we try to keep down there.”
Pletcher has had six maiden special weight victories with juveniles during the Sprint/Summer Meet at Gulfstream, including Valkyrie Gold, a Florida-bred daughter of Exclusive Quality who rallied late to defeat Nancysaidso in her April 12 debut.
“The great thing about Gulfstream is that there is a baby race almost every weekend. That gives us a plenty of options to get the babies under way,” Pletcher said. “In some cases, hopefully, by breaking their maiden there early it puts them in a position to run in a stake at Belmont or Saratoga. We feel like it's a great program.”
The 2-year-old program is highlighted by the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes series, which has undergone a revitalization since moving to Gulfstream a few years ago. The lucrative series for 2-year-olds kicks off Saturday with the $100,000 Dr. Fager Division and the $100,000 Desert Vixen Division for fillies. The tradition rich program, which produced 2010 Eclipse Award and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Awesome Feather among other national stars, will continue Sept. 1 with the $200,000 Affirmed and the $200,000 Susan's Girl and Sept. 29 with the $400,000 In Reality and the $400,000 My Dear Girl.
A Casse-trained filly is slated to take on likely favorite Nancysaidso Saturday in the six-furlong Desert Vixen. Capture Your Dream was privately purchased after her auspicious debut at Gulfstream May 13, when she registered a dazzling 10 ½-length triumph. Captured Your Dream's bloodlines heightened interest in the daughter of Uncaptured, a Florida-based stallion whose first crop has been impressive.
“Mr. Oxley still owns a large portion of Uncaptured. I trained Uncaptured. He's kind of dear to our hearts. He has a big crop. He has two or three big crops coming. We'll be down there fighting,” said Casse, who saddled the multiple-graded stakes winner for victories at 4 ½ furlongs to 1 3/16 miles.
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