I am on countdown for my trip to Gulfstream Park next month. The racing on the weekend of March 10 is shaping up to be phenomenal with several of my favorite horses scheduled to run. In the meantime, the racing between now and then is looking pretty great, too. So before I get all giddy with anticipation over races that are still two weeks away, let me immerse myself in this weekend's races.
The G3 Sabin Stakes is easily the most anticipated race on the card. The race drew a short field, but it is far from short on talent. Reigning 3-YO Champion Filly Royal Delta and defending Sabin winner Awesome Maria. This is a match-up that has me drooling over my PPs for this field. Awesome Maria has not run a bad race in her career, but she has not raced since winning the G1 Ogden Phipps Handicap back in June of 2011. Her biggest advantage in this race is the Pletcher/Velazquez pairing she has in her corner. The duo is red hot at Gulfstream, as I have probably said about a thousand times so far in this meet. However, despite her trainer, jockey, and impressive works, I just do not see her winning this race. Royal Delta is a tough filly and has faced the best of the best. She is better at 9-10 furlongs, but 8.5 furlongs is a good distance for her first race since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. Since her ultimate goal is the Dubai World Cup, I do not expect her to run a huge race, but she will get the job done.
Up first on Saturday are a pair of allowance optional claiming races, the first for three-year old fillies and the second for three-year old colts and geldings. Keeping to southern traditions, the ladies race first, and their race is headlined by Awesome Belle. Last year she looked really strong at Calder, but races at Gulfstream and Churchill Downs have given some indication that she might be a Calder monster. She has not raced in anything but stakes races since breaking her maiden, so Saturday's race will be a step down in class for her. If she wins here, she may very well go on to have a good season. The ladies take the track in race 6, and the boys follow up directly behind them in race 7. This race drew a large field, and among the entrants are Gold Megillah, Argentine Tango, El Romano, and Our Entourage. Fans of Uncle Mo would do well to keep an eye on Our Entourage, a regally bred colt by Street Cry and out of the Dynaformer mare Sand Springs. The colt is trained by Todd Pletcher, owned by Repole Stable, and jockey John Velazquez has the call in Saturday's race.
The G3 Very One Stakes is one of three stakes races on Saturday's card. Perfect Shirl makes her 2012 debut and first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in this race. She faces tough competition in Keertana who was a game third in the G3 Endeavour Stakes earlier in the month in her first race since last May. The pair will likely go off as the heavy favorites in the field of thirteen going one and three-eighth miles. Keertana has the edge here, as she already has a race under her belt this season. I expect the mare to build off her effort in the Endeavour and just keep going.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Grace Hall makes her much anticipated 2012 debut in the G2 Davona Dale Stakes. Her toughest competition is likely to come from G2 Demoiselle winner Disposablepleasure. The Giacomo filly is another trainee from the Pletcher barn and will have jockey Ramon Dominguez on board. Grace Hall is the class of the field and should have no problem disposing of the mostly over-matched field.
Also on tab for this weekend is the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Sunday. Given the number of stellar races on Saturday's card, it is difficult to see how this will be the race of the weekend at Gulfstream, but the much anticipated showdown between Union Rags and undefeated Algorithms has most drooling over this race. With so many unanswered questions surrounding this year's Kentucky Derby contenders, most will be looking for some answers from this race. By the end of the weekend, we will likely have a clear cut favorite to take the roses come the first Saturday in May.