Trainer Fausto Gutierrez sent Kukulkan to the Gulfstream Park racetrack Sunday morning for a half-mile workout in preparation for a planned start in the Copa Confraternidad del Caribe on the Dec. 8 Clasico Internacional del Caribe program.
St. George Stable LLC's Kukulkan, who captured last year's $300,000 Clasico del Caribe for 3-year-olds, breezed the four-furlong distance in 49.66 seconds for his highly anticipated return to action at Gulfstream Park in the 1 ¼-mile race, which will be one of five stakes for Caribbean and Latin American horses.
Should the 4-year-old Mexican-bred colt return victorious, Gutierrez would achieve a Clasico del Caribe/Copa Confraternidad del Caribe double for the second year in a row. Gutierrez saddled Jala Jala for victories in the 2017 Clasico del Caribe and the 2018 Copa Confraternidad del Caribe in the first two years that the Clasico Internacional del Caribe was hosted by Gulfstream Park.
“For me, it will be a milestone because 5 years ago when they started talking about running the Clasico here, I knew it would be better and there would be a higher-level [of competition],” Gutierrez said through an interpreter. “So, for me, it's important to have success here at Gulfstream.”
Gutierrez is looking to expand on the success he has already enjoyed the past two years in the Clasico Internacional del Caribe at Gulfstream while planning to train full-time in South Florida.
“I'm really thinking about training here because at Palm Meadows I have 16 horses, 12 of them are 2-year-olds,” said Gutierrez, who sent Kukulkan to the track at Gulfstream's training facility in Palm Beach County Nov. 9 for a half-mile breeze. “The plan is for the next two months, I will keep horses in Mexico, but beginning in January and February, I will be here full time.”
Kukulkan may well figure in his trainer's long-rage plans at Gulfstream, but Gutierrez's focus for the son of Point Determined right now is fixed on Copa Confraternidad del Caribe, a race in which St. George Stable's Jala Jala beat the boys by 4 ¾ lengths in 2018.
“Last year, Jala Jala was a very good filly but she was facing males. She responded, but it was a tough race for her,” said Gutierrez, noting that Jala Jala has a weanling foal by Distorted Humor. “I think Kukulkan is a better horse. He competed in better races, stronger races, so I expect the horse is going to run a very good race.”
Kukulkan arrived at Gulfstream Park last year with a 13-race winning streak that included a sweep of Mexico's Triple Crown. Sent to post as the 3-10 favorite in the Clasico del Caribe, he delivered with a dominating 10 ¼-length victory, which prompted his connections to make him eligible for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) last January. Although his perfect 14-race record was snapped while racing against the likes of a victorious City of Light and multiple Grade 1 winner Accelerate, he proved that he could stand up to tough U.S. rivals by winning a third-level allowance race at Churchill Downs in his very next start. He went on to finish third in an Indiana Grand stakes and second in the West Virginia Governor's Cup (G3) at Mountaineer, where he set a pressured pace before coming up just a half-length short. He finished off the board for only the second time in his career in the Lucas Classic (G3) at Churchill Downs in his most recent start.
“The horse has improved over the year. He's a strong horse now,” Gutierrez said. “We're looking for a strong 5-year-old campaign from Kukulkan.”
After saddling Kukulkan and Jala Jala for rousing victories in the past two runnings of the Clasico del Caribe, Gutierrez will be represented by a considerably less hyped colt in this year's edition. St. George Stable LLC's Lopecitos will enter the 1 1/8-mile main event of the Clasico Internacional del Caribe with just three victories from 15 starts in Mexico.
“Lopecitos may have one of the best pedigrees in the race,” said Gutierrez of the son of Paynter and a Scat Daddy mare. “I was expecting more from the horse in Mexico. I think at sea level he will improve. Maybe he has a good chance to get the victory. I have faith in him.”
Gutierrez is also slated to saddle St. George Stable LLC's Laika for a start in the Copa Dama del Caribe, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Impervious, like Lopecitos, has had a somewhat disappointing 2019 campaign.
“When Laika was a 2-year-old she won the top race for fillies in Mexico,” Gutierrez said. “But I think maybe because of the sea level she will improve here. In Mexico it is 6000 feet over sea level, and some of my horse improve a lot here.”
Having demonstrated a high-level of horsemanship with Kukulkan and Jala Jala the past two years and having the support of St. George Stable's LLC, Gutierrez doesn't figure to have much trouble keeping his head above water during the coming months at Gulfstream.
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