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Lightning Larry Strikes in Sunshine Sprint

Florida Derby
A field of 12 line up in the $1 million Florida Derby. (Photo credit: © Dpselvaggi | Dreamstime.com)

Lea Farms’ Grade 3 winner Lightning Larry jumped out to an early lead and repelled a challenge from defending champion Gatsby at the top of the stretch to post a front-running triumph in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

The six-furlong Sunshine Sprint for 4-year-olds and up was the second of two Florida-bred stakes that served as co-headliners, following Sweet Dani Girl’s victory in the $75,000 Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf.

Ridden by Jose Morelos for trainer Jorge Delgado, Lightening Larry ($7) covered the distance in 1:12.61 over a fast main track as the 5-2 favorite. It was the third career stakes win and first since a 12-1 upset of the Chick Lang (G3) last May at Pimlico Race Course.

Lightening Larry broke sharply from his rail post and was hustled to the lead by Morelos, going the opening quarter-mile in 22.46 seconds with Gatsby, Unsociable and Boca Boy battling for position in behind. Lightning Larry was still going strong after a half in 46.85, when Gatsby was dropped down to the rail by jockey Luis Saez to launch their bid.

Morelos and Lightening Larry had plenty left to turn back Gatsby and open up as 2021 Dr. Fager winner Cajun’s Magic closed stoutly down the center of the track to get second. Gatsby held on for third over Legal Deal, and they were followed by Boca Boy, Legends Can’t Die and Unsociable.

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Sunshine Sprint Replay

Bred by Michelle Redding, 4-year-old Lightening Larry won the Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs to cap his juvenile campaign and scored his biggest victory in the Chick Lang, run on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes (G1). He went winless in three subsequent starts, finishing third against older horses in a six-furlong optional claiming sprint6 Nov. 26 at Gulfstream in his prior start.

“To me, he’s always been the same. I never lost any hope with him,” Delgado said. “He’s a great horse. Sometimes, they get bad trips. Sometimes, everything goes their way. He is a great horse and he showed it today.”

Delgado said the ultimate goal is to try graded company again, but he expects to give Lightening Larry another confidence booster before then.

“I’ll plan another handicap or another [Florida-bred] stakes and then, I’ll go back with the big dogs with him,” he said.

Sweet Dani Girl Wins Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf

In the Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf, jockey Joel Rosario celebrated his 38th birthday with a gate-to-wire victory aboard J and J Stable and Nicholas Vaccarezza’s Sweet Dani Girl ($8), making her first start in eight months.

Saddled for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza by assistant Reynaldo Abreu, Sweet Dani Girl was pressed by Crystal Coast through a quarter-mile in 24.92 seconds and a half in 48.84 with Sonar third and last year’s Filly & Mare Turf runner-up Sugar Fix in the clear in fourth.

Sugar Fix and jockey Tyler Gaffalione ranged up to challenge for the lead exiting the far turn and set their sights on Sweet Dani Girl, but the 4-year-old daughter of Jess’s Dream responded by finding another gear and gaining separation through the stretch.

Mona Stella, the 9-5 favorite, closed to edge Sugar Fix for second with Sonar third. Don’t Get Khozy, a 12-time career winner racing for just the second time on turf, Crystal Coast, Extravagant Rosie and Lookinlikeaqueen completed the order of finish.

“I had a very good trip,” Rosario said. “She broke sharp and Reynaldo told me to just let her get into her stride and go from there. It looked like we were going to be on the lead but the outside horse [Crystal Coast] had some speed. My filly was there and she was able to keep coming at the end. She was digging in there at the end and getting better.”

Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf Replay

Proxy Avoids Trouble in Sharp Work for Pegasus World Cup

Godolphin’s Clark (G1) winner Proxy had his last major workout Saturday before the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, turning in another strong – if a bit eventful – performance at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.

The 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup for 4-year-olds and up headlines a program of eight stakes, seven graded, worth $5.3 million in purses including the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) and $500,000 Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G3).

The 5-year-old Proxy’s official time for the six-furlong move to the seven-eighths pole was 1:13.20, the fastest of two works at the distance Saturday morning. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Trainer Michael Stidham designed the work’s first five-eighths of a mile to be in company with Godolphin’s Global Sensation — achieved with the two working as a pair in a lively 1:00.40 — with Proxy working an additional eighth-mile past the wire. With a crush of horses working right after the track’s renovation break, exercise rider Arturo Aparicio ran into traffic past the wire and had to steer Proxy around a couple of horses galloping out from their own workout.

“Basically Proxy had to go around those horses and weave a little bit to navigate around the turn,” Stidham said by phone. “It probably cost him a length or two in the final time. But a very nice work. He finished up well and went on out real nice and continued to gallop out well down the backside.

“The last work [five-eighths in a minute flat] and this work were the two important works. I just wanted to see him finish up willingly and then continue around the turn with good energy,” he added. “He did that last time and this time really well.”

Godolphin is a finalist to win its sixth Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding owner and its third as outstanding breeder, one of each came under its Darley banner. Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed’s international racing and breeding operation swept both Eclipse awards for 2021.

The 2022 winners will be honored Jan. 26 at the Eclipse Awards winner at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Godolphin’s $16.3 million in purse earnings easily led all owners last year, with its 88 victories ranking fifth.

“Every May right after the Derby, we get anywhere from about 15 to 18 2-year-olds that come into our barn,” Stidham said of training for Godolphin. “For a trainer, it’s like a dream come true to have the pedigrees, the stallions they breed to and the dams these horses are out of. Most are either graded-stakes winners themselves or producers of graded-stakes winner. Those are the kinds of horses that get unloaded off a van and into our barn.

“If you try to go buy those pedigrees at a sale, you’d spend millions of dollars trying to duplicate those horses. As the recipient of those kinds of horses, as a trainer there is no better spot to be in,” he added. “You never know when a Mystic Guide [winner of the Dubai World Cup (G1) in 2021] or a Proxy is coming off the van. It’s very exciting.”

Stidham said Godolphin’s patience with horses such as Proxy is a hallmark of Sheikh Mohammed’s program.

“I’ve been doing this 45 years now,” Stidham said. “There’s no better job to have than working for them in the industry, because of that reason. They hire trainers they believe in and have confidence in. Certainly, we have to discuss all our decisions and plans with them, but they give us the ability to do the right thing, no matter what, for the horses. There’s no hesitation if we say, ‘This horse has a little of this or a little of that. We need to slow down. Or we need to stop.’ It’s always what’s best for the horse.”

Proxy is a good example of that theory in practice. Big things were expected from the son of super sire Tapit out of the millionaire mare Panty Raid, a Grade 1 winner on turf and synthetic and Grade 2 winner on dirt as well as the dam of graded-stakes winner Micheline.

But Proxy’s camp ditched Kentucky Derby (G1) dreaming and regrouped after the colt finished fourth in both the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Lexington (G3). Proxy resumed racing 10 1/2 months later, winning an allowance race in New Orleans. He had two seconds and a pair of thirds before earning his first stakes victory in his Grade 1 debut in Nov. 25 Clark, which also was at the Pegasus distance of 1 1/8 miles.

“We talk about it, that Proxy wasn’t quite where he needed to be to go into the Triple Crown,” Stidham said. “It wasn’t ‘Oh well, why don’t we do this or that?’ It was a done deal. Believe me, the reason Mystic Guide did what he did was because of that, allowing us to go slow with him and skip some of the big races, including the Breeders’ Cup. With Proxy, skipping the Triple Crown has allowed us to get to winning the Clark. I don’t think a lot of people realize how important those decisions are in a horse’s career, for their future.”

Skippylongstocking, O’Connor Back to Work for Pegasus World Cup

A morning after their stablemate in the Saffie Joseph Jr. stable, White Abarrio, breezed at Gulfstream Park, Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking and Fernando Vine Ode and Michael and Jules Iavarone’s O’Connor went sent to the main track at Palm Meadows for easy half-mile breezes Sunday morning.

All three Joseph trainees are scheduled to compete in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat Jan. 28 at Gulfstream.

Skippylongstocking breezed a half-mile in 48.50, while O’Connor was timed in 51.05 at Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County.. Both horses were breezing for the first time since running in the Dec. 31 Harlan’s Holiday (G3), won by Skippylongstocking.

Joseph, who expressed satisfaction with the first-works-back, also sent Ken Ramsey and the Estate of Sarah Ramsay’s Artie’s Princess to Palm Meadows’ main track for a half-mile breeze in 48.45 seconds in preparation for a start in the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf invitational (G3).

At Santa Anita Sunday morning, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Speaking Scout, who captured the Hollywood Derby (G1) in his most recent start for trainer Graham Motion, breezed a half-mile in 48.20 for a start in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1).