Shade Tree Thoroughbreds' Three Rules was utterly dominant while romping to victories in $200,000 Dr. Fager and $300,000 Affirmed at Gulfstream Park, but it's quite possible that the undefeated 2-year-old colt was not at his very best in the first two legs of the 2016 Florida Sire Stakes (FSS).
“He had a hoof (issue) before the first race and he had a temperature before the second race,” trainer Jose Pinchin said. “He's had no issues coming into this race.”
Three Rules, who captured the Dr. Fager by seven lengths and the Affirmed by 5 ½ lengths, has trained sharply in preparation for his quest to sweep the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Saturday's $500,000 In Reality, one of eight stakes worth more than $1.6 million in purses.
Three Rules is the 3-5 morning-line favorite.
The son of Gone Astray, who has won all four of his race by a combined 21 lengths, has flourished while distinguishing himself as the top juvenile in South Florida.
“He's matured. He's gotten a little bit bigger,” Pinchin said. “He's always been a sensible horse. He doesn't give himself any trouble. Other horses can give themselves trouble, but he doesn't give himself any trouble. He's always been a sensible horse.”
Pinchin's trainee was bet down to even-money favoritism for his June 10 career kickoff. He lived up to the hype with a 3 ½-length victory, running five furlongs in 58.54 seconds under a hand ride from Cornelio Velasquez. Finishing a never-threatening but strong-closing second behind Three Rules was Gunnevera, who would go on to capture the Saratoga Special (G2) Aug. 14.
Three Rules delivered an even more dominating triumph while returning in the $75,000 Birdonthewire Stakes on the Summit of Speed program July 2, notching a five-length off-the-pace score at 4 ½ furlongs.
Three Rules stepped it up another notch while capturing the Dr. Fager Division Aug. 6 at 3-5 odds without the need for very much encouragement from Velasquez. The Florida-bred colt set a stakes record while running six furlongs in 1:09.49, despite popping a hoof abscess that had somewhat compromised his preparation for the first leg of the tradition-rich FSS series for juveniles sired by accredited stallions standing in Florida.
In the seven-furlong Affirmed Sept. 3, Three Rules lived up to 1-5 favoritism while pressing the early pace and drawing away under a hand ride.
Three Rules, who is expected to go to post again as the odds-on favorite against 11 rivals, will race for the first time around two turns in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile In Reality.
“I don't think he'll have any problem at all,” Pinchin said. “I think he'll be the controlling speed. I personally think it will be his easiest race with slower fractions. The last time they went 24 (seconds), 44, 1:10. The pace should be much slower.”
Three horses have emerged from the FSS series undefeated: Smile (1984), Seacliff (1995) and Sir Oscar (2003).
Pinchin is also slated to saddle Front Loaded for a start in the In Reality in an effort to turn the tables on his stablemate. Front Loaded, owned by Stephen Rousseau and Calypso Stable, the son of Kantharos finished a late-closing second behind Three Rules in the Affirmed. He previously debuted with a two-length victory July 8 and finished third in the Dr. Fager.
“He was well meant from the beginning. He got squeezed out and fell back to last (in the Affirmed) and made his run,” Pinchin said. “He's been a nice horse from the get-go.”
Pinchin is confident Front Loaded will handle his two-turn assignment under Tyler Gaffalione.
“I don't think it will matter. I think maybe it will be better for him,” Pinchin said. “After this race, we'll try him on the turf. He's got some turf pedigree, so after this, we'll give him a shot.”
Sunshine N Shadow, a front-running winner in a seven-furlong maiden test Sept. 11, tops the list of newcomers to the FSS series. Trained by Stanley Gold, who holds the record for most FSS winners (18), the son of Wildcat Heir debuted with a second-place finish at 4-5 favoritism Aug. 28 before graduating at 4-5.
“He won pretty easy. He won at seven-eighths and we're going to try him around two turns. I think the seven-eighths race leads him good into the mile-and-a-sixteenth race,” Gold said. “It's a lot of money and it only goes by once. You've got to support the program and take a chance.
“Everyone has Three Rules as a shoe-in, and even he is, there's still a plenty of money left after first.”
Edgard Zayas has the return mount aboard Michael Bernard's colt.
Bell Racing's Illmatic, who finished a neck behind Sunshine N Shadow in his career debut, was also entered to clash with Three Rules for the first time in the In Reality.
“He's a big rangy colt. He ran a little green first time,” trainer Ralph Nicks said. “It's a lot of money for a small field. Jose's horse is a nice horse, but no one is proven around two turns. Still, it's a big payday for second and third.”
Nik Juarez has been named to ride the son of Kantharos.
Sandra Trotter's Legacy Azteca is also slated for a graduation attempt in the In Reality, but the Daniel Pita-trained colt has been battled tested during his four-race career. The son of High Cotton, finished less than a length behind Gunnevera in a second-place finish July 16. After finishing second again, Legacy Azteca finished a strong-closing third in the Affirmed, a length behind runner-up Front Loaded.
Thegreatcollection will bring stakes credentials into the In Reality for trainer Efren Loza Jr. and owners Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti. The son of Saint Anddan, who broke his maiden in a $16,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Aug. 7, rallied from off the pace to capture the $60,000 Evangeline Downs Prince Stakes by 4 ¼ lengths Aug. 27. Colby Hernandez has the return mount.
Mr. Pinocchio, a debut winner at Gulfstream Sept. 4, is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the In Reality for trainer Patrick Biancone, who owns the son of Gone Astray with Goureau and Sons.
Trainer Kathleen O'Connell entered a pair of horses for the FSS finale: Love My Cotton, a son of High Cotton who broke his maiden in his second start before finishing eight in the Dr. Fager; and Western Journey, who close from well off the pace to score at first asking in a Sept. 2 $35,000 maiden claiming race.
Dont Come Knockin and El Cacique round out the field.
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