Had the $75,000 Millions Classic Preview been run at a racetrack other than Gulfstream Park West, multiple-stakes winning Mr. Jordan may well have come up short in a bid to win the 1 1/16-mile stakes that headlined nine stakes for Florida-breds on Saturday's 11-race card.
Yet, a heads-up ride by Paco Lopez and a preferred racing surface resulted in a gutsy victory by a nose that extended the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained gelding's undefeated record at Gulfstream Park West to 5-for-5.
The 6-year-old gelding, who has earned more than $800,000 in earnings, recovered from a slow break to get inside stalking position behind pacesetter Jay's Way around the first turn and along the backstretch past fractions of 24.31 and 48.20 seconds for the first half mile. The son of Kantharos lacked room on the turn into the homestretch as Deland, the even-money favorite ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, got the jump on him and took the lead at the top of the stretch. Lopez found room to the outside, and Mr. Jordan dug into his favorite racing surface and caught Deland at the wire.
“He's a little on the slow side breaking, but Paco got him up there and on the turn he had him in good position. [Jay's Way] dictated the pace and it looked like Paco was in a little tight around the three-eighths pole,” said Plesa, who trains the gray gelding for David Melin, Leon Ellman and Laurie Plesa. “When he had no place to go, he swung him to the outside and he ran the horse down. It was a great effort on the second horse's part. It was a greater effort on our part. He loves this racetrack.”
Mr. Jordan, the 6-5 second choice, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.21 to record his 10th career victory and seventh stakes race. Deland finished 1 ¼ lengths clear of Noble Drama and jockey Nik Juarez.
Lopez, who captured the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs a week ago, rode Mr. Jordan for the first time since capturing an allowance race at Parx July 18, 2017. He has proven in the past to have a good rapport with Mr. Jordan, having ridden him in his only graded-stakes win in the 2015 Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth, as well as the 2016 Millions Preview Classic.
“I'm so happy for the horse. He's a difficult horse to ride. He got a perfect trip for him,” said Lopez, who won five stakes Saturday.
Plesa said the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park June 19 would likely be targeted for Mr. Jordan's next start.
A Grade 2 stakes-placed stakes winner on turf, Kroy ($5.20) demonstrated versatility on the main track at Gulfstream Park West Saturday, withstanding heavy pressure to capture the $75,000 Millions Sprint Preview with an a front-running performance.
Ridden by Paco Lopez, the 4-year-old son of The Factor sprinted to the lead along the backstretch before receiving a strong outside challenge by Splash Rules leaving the backstretch and around the far turn. The pair raced on even terms into the stretch before Kroy asserted himself and drew clear by 1 ½ lengths at the wire.
“I know he can run on dirt, but short only. Long on dirt is too far for him. He finished second to Mr. Jordan going long. He ran good, but it was too far for him,” trainer Armand De La Cerda said. “I told Paco don't take a hold of him. This horse doesn't like it. You have to go.”
Kroy, who ran six furlongs in 1:09.81 to collect his second stakes win on dirt, has excelled on turf up to a mile. He was narrowly beaten in the 2017 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) at Santa Anita.
“Kroy can run a mile on turf anywhere in the world but he needs the grass has to be firm,” De La Cerda said. “He ran second in California last year in a big race going a mile.”
Splash Rules held second, 6 ½ lengths ahead of favored Field Trip.
De La Cerda is uncertain where Kroy will race next.
“I have horses in New York now. I can go there, or I can run at Gulfstream going seven-eighths on dirt or on the turf. I have better choices,” De La Cerda said.
Shanghai Starlet ($8) returned to the main track and the winner's circle Saturday at Gulfstream Park West, where the Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old captured her third victory in her last four starts in the $75,000 Millions Distaff Preview.
The daughter of Shanghai Bobby, who had back-to-back wins in an allowance race and the Panama City Stakes before finishing fourth in a turf stakes at Gulfstream last time out, captured the Distaff Preview by 1 ¾ lengths while running seven-furlongs in 1:23.75.
Ridden by Edgard Zayas, who earlier in the day guided Pletcher-trained Picara to a front-running victory in the Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview, Shanghai Starlet broke alertly to stalk the pace set by Heaven's Pulpit past fractions of 22.73 and 45.52 seconds for the first half mile. Heaven's Pulpit took her lead into the stretch under Luca Panici, only to meet a strong challenge from Shanghai Starlet, who drew off through the stretch.
Heaven's Pulpit held second, three lengths ahead of 2-1 favorite Heiressall, who chased the pace before weakening under Miguel Vasquez.
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