One year after earning the first of a trio of graded stakes during a campaign that landed her in the Breeders’ Cup, Curlin’s Approval is back as the horse to beat in defense of her victory in the $175,000 Hurricane Bertie (G3) presented by Fasig-Tipton Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The 17th running of the seven-furlong Hurricane Bertie for fillies and mares 4 and up is among eight stakes, five graded, worth $17.225 million on a 12-race program anchored by the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), the world’s richest race.
A victory Saturday would make Curlin’s Approval, a 5-year-old daughter of Hall of Famer Curlin bred, trained and co-owned by Happy Alter, just the third horse to win the Hurricane Bertie twice and only the second to do so in successive years.
Gold Mover won the Hurricane Bertie in 2002 and 2003 before the race earned graded status in 2005. Any Limit won in 2007 and 2009 for the late Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. The race was not run in 2016.
Curlin’s Approval is following a similar blueprint to her start as a 4-year-old, when she won the Hurricane Bertie by 2 ½ lengths in her seasonal bow after finishing a hard-fought second in the one-mile Rampart (G3) five weeks earlier.
Last month, Curlin’s Approval ended her nine-race campaign running a game second as the favorite in the Rampart, her first start since being eliminated by a stumbled start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Curlin’s Approval is seven-for-11 lifetime with two seconds at Gulfstream and has won four of six starts at the distance over the track, including the Princess Rooney (G2) last July to punch her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup. She also won the 1 1/16 mile Royal Delta (G2) during last winter’s Championship Meet.
Meet-leading rider Luis Saez will be aboard from Post 7 of 12 at 121 pounds.
St. Elias Stable’s Grade 2 winner Nonna Mela, third in the Rampart 3 ¼ lengths behind Curlin’s Approval, makes her return in the Hurricane Bertie in what will be the final start of her career. The 4-year-old Arch filly has three wins, a second and two thirds with purse earnings of $285,420 from eight career starts.
“This is going to be her final start before she is retired as a broodmare so we’d love to send her out on a good note,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Speaking with the ownership, she’s a very good-looking graded-stakes winner and we just talked about breeding her this year and decided we wanted to get an early cover. We felt like the timing of this race worked out well.”
Nonna Mela raced four times last year, her lone win coming in an August allowance at Saratoga in her first start in 10 months. Second in the Prioress (G2) and fifth in the Raven Run (G2) prior to the Rampart, she won two of her first three career races capped by the 6 ½-furlong Adirondack (G2).
“I thought she ran competitively in her last start. She just ran into a couple of fillies than ran very well on the day, but I thought she gave it a good effort,” Pletcher said. “I think the seven furlongs suits her very well. I think that would be an ideal distance for her. We just need her to step forward with a top effort.”
Pletcher, Gulfstream’s unprecedented 14-time consecutive meet-leading trainer, will also send out Repole Stable’s Spice Lady in the Hurricane Bertie. The 4-year-old daughter of champion sprinter Speighstown went unraced at 2 and won a pair of sprints at Guflstream among just three starts last year.
“She’s fairly lightly raced. We had her in the two-other-than [Jan. 19] with an entrymate in Nonna Bella and we decided to run Nonna Bella on her own,” Pletcher said. “We felt like Spice Lady is in very good form at the moment and she’s been training well. She’s two-for-three lifetime with both of those wins being at Gulfstream. We felt that in light of the way she was training that we would give her a chance to step up into stakes company.”
Nonna Mela will carry Hall of Famer Javier Castellano from Post 10 and Spice Lady will have fellow Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard from Post 8, both at 117 pounds.
Also entered are multiple graded-stakes placed Apologynotaccepted, making her first start since last summer and the first since being purchased at Fasig-Tipton’s November fall mixed sale; Rich Mommy and Bodacious Babe, 1-2 in Sugar Swirl (G3) Dec. 16 at Gulfstream; Marley’s Freedom, fourth in the La Brea (G1) Dec. 26; Jordan’s Henny, second and third, respectively, in the Davona Dale (G2) and GP Oaks (G2) last winter at Gulfstream; Magalie; multiple stakes winner Money Or Love; Moonlit Promise, a winner of three straight including back-to-back graded stakes over Woodbine’s synthetic surface; and Hawthorne stakes winner Shar Ran.
Hurricane Bertie won 14 of 35 starts and $940,041 in purses for owners Elaine, Richard and Bertram Klein and trainer Bernie Flint from 1997-2000, including victories in the 1998 Prioress (G2) and 2000 Princess Rooney (G3) and First Lady (G3) handicaps.
Source: Gulfstream Park