Bass Stables’ Avow, impressive winner of her first two career races nearly a year apart, will return to state-bred company and try turf for the first time looking to regain her winning form in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park.
The one-mile Filly & Mare Turf for females 4 and older is the first of two stakes restricted to Florida-bred on an 11-race program followed by the $75,000 Sunshine Sprint for 4-year-olds and up going six furlongs. First race post time is 12:10 p.m.
By $17 million earner Arrogate, whose four Grade 1 wins included the inaugural 2017 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream, Avow was a $300,000 yearling that has made each of her three career starts on Gulfstream’s main track.
She debuted with a last-to-first eight-length maiden special weight triumph sprinting 6 ½ furlongs in December 2021 before going to the sidelines, returning with a one-mile optional claiming allowance score over older horses by 5 ¼ lengths Nov. 4.
“She was impressive in her first two starts. She’s looking for two turns and more distance; hopefully she’ll handle the surface switch,” Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We don’t really know. It’s a Florida-bred race and she’s Florida-bred, and we’re hoping she’ll take to the turf.”
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Most recently, Avow faced her elders a second straight time in an open optional claiming allowance Dec. 14 at Gulfstream going one mile, racing inside before getting out late and winding up second, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Soul of an Angel but 10 ½ lengths of third-place finisher Three Witches.
“She got kind of bottled up in some traffic and didn’t get in the clear until it was a little too late, but she still closed well,” Pletcher said. “I thought it was a good effort.”
Also entered for her turf debut is J and J Stable and Nicholas Vaccarezza’s 4-year-old filly Sweet Dani Girl, winner of the 2021 Myrtlewood sprinting six furlongs at Keeneland in her second career start. The daughter of Jess’s Dream led into the stretch of the Davona Dale (G2) last March at Gulfstream before settling for fourth, and hasn’t raced since finishing fifth in the Eight Belles (G2) last May.
Imaginary Stables’ Don’t Get Khozy is a 6-year-old Khozan mare that will be making her second grass start and first since November 2019. She has finished in the money in 31 of 46 career starts including 12 wins, 13 seconds and nearly $450,000 in purse earnings, placing four times in stakes. Last out she was fourth in the FSS City of Ocala Dec. 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.
An accomplished cast of turf runners awaits them including Crystal Coast and Sugar Fix. Jeffrey Lambert’s Sugar Fix will be trying the Filly & Mare Turf for the third straight year, taking the lead into the stretch both times before respectively finishing fifth and second, beaten three lengths combined. Both came for previous trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who claimed the 6-year-old mare for $40,000 in July 2020 and won the 2021 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream. Sugar Fix was claimed for $62,500 by Bob Hess Jr. last fall at Kentucky Downs and returns to the East Coast after three stakes starts in California.
Palm Beach Racing V’s Crystal Coast will face Florida-breds for a third straight race, having run second by a neck in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claimer Nov. 11 over Gulfstream’s Tapeta surface and coming back to win a similar spot going a mile on the turf by 1 ½ lengths Dec. 9.
“I think it’s a logical spot. It’s definitely a step up in class,” trainer Carlos David said. “Two races back [jockey] Jairo [Rendon] did a really good job on her. She got in a little bit of trouble at the top of the stretch and couldn’t really get out.
“She’s difficult to [make] switch leads so once you get that right lead, she gives you another gear. Sometimes she stays on the left and she doesn’t give you everything,” he added. “Last time I told [jockey] Luis [Saez] to make sure she switches leads in the stretch and he got the job done. Hopefully we get the same results this time.”
Crystal Coast owns three wins, four seconds and two thirds in 16 career tries over the Gulfstream turf.
“I think she’s a lot better. She’s matured a lot,” David said. “She was really difficult as a 2-year-old and she did OK as a 3-year-old. Now, turning 4, I think she’s going to be fine.”
Rounding out the field are Sonar, Extravagant Rosie, Lookinlikeaqueen and Mona Stella, the latter third in the 1 1/16-mile Distaff Turf last March at Tampa Bay Downs in her most recent try against state-breds.
Gatsby Defends Title in Sunshine Sprint
Arindel’s Gatsby is back to defend his title in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Sprint at Gulfstream Park, where one of his six rivals will be a stablemate, Michelle and Lawrence Sargent’s Legal Deal.
“We ran them in the same race last year. Gatsby won and Legal Deal ran somewhere in the middle of the field. He needed some time off,” trainer Carlos David said.
The Sunshine Sprint, a six-furlong dash for older Florida-breds, will co-headline Saturday’s card with the $75,000 Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf, a mile turf stakes for Florida-bred fillies and mares.
Gatsby has won only once since his Sunshine Sprint win, but the 5-year-old homebred son of Brethren is coming off a sharp effort in the seven-furlong Marion County Florida Sire Stakes, in which he closed resolutely to finish just a half-length behind victorious and multiple stakes-winning stablemate Octane and a head behind graded-stakes winner Willy Boi.
“That was a good performance at Tampa when he finished behind Octane and Willy Boi, who won a graded stake,” David said. “Gatsby prefers three-quarters, I think.”
Legal Deal, who finished fourth in last year’s Sunshine Sprint, enters this year’s running off a brief freshening after finishing first or second in his last four starts, including a narrow loss to next-out winner The Distractor at Gulfstream last time out Nov. 13.
“I gave him a little break and sent him to a friend’s farm near Palm Meadows. We brought him back and he’s feeling really, really good,” David said.
Luis Saez has the call on Gatsby, while Paco Lopez is scheduled to ride Legal Deal.
“They have pretty similar running styles,” David said. “I just tell the guys, ‘Just ride your own race. Try not to bother each other, but you’ve got to ride your own race.’”
The David-trained duo will clash with graded-stakes winner Lightening Larry Saturday. Lea Farms LLC’s 4-year-old son of Uncaptured won the Chic Lang (G3) on the Preakness (G1) undercard. Lightening Larry is coming off a third-place finish in an optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Nov. 22.
Jose Morales is scheduled to ride Lightening Larry for the first time.
Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher’s Unsociable will seek his fourth-straight victory while making his first start off the $30,000 claim by trainer Michael Maker. The 4-year-old son of Social Inclusion has finished worse than first or second only once in eight career starts.
Irad Ortiz will ride Unsociable for the first time Saturday.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, R.A. Hill, RAP Racing and Chris Mara’s Legends Can’t Die will enter the Sunshine Sprint off a second-place finish in a Gulfstream optional claiming allowance behind Endorsed, who finished fourth in the 2022 Pegasus World Cup (G1).
Trainer George Weaver named Joel Rosario to ride the 4-year-old gelding.
Kenneth Fishbein’s Boca Boy and Stonehedge LLC’s Cajun’s Magic round out the field.