Gulfstream Park welcomes August with a bang, presenting a pair of races in the Florida Sire Stakes series. The $100,000 Desert Vixen for the fillies in Race 9 and the $100,000 Dr. Fager in Race 10 match 2-year-olds over 6 furlongs. Both were well supported in the entry box with 10 and 12 participants, respectively. We'll focus on the Dr. Fager division in the Race of the Week, which looks like a stronger betting race of the two.
Over the years, this series has produced the likes of Hall of Famer Holy Bull and Breeders' Cup champions like Smile, Brave Raj, Big Drama and Awesome Feather.
Nine of the 12 juveniles have a single victory on the resume, led by open company maiden special weight scores at Gulfstream from BREEZE ON BY and GATSBY, and at Tampa Bay Downs from VALIANT THOR. With such light resumes -- 16 starts among the dozen entrants -- it's folly to put a ceiling on anyone's class just yet.
Exactly half of these runners made the first call lead in their most recent start. And with many of them extending some distance to 6 furlongs, expect a fast pace that could wilt those not up to the challenge. A horse with a solid finishing kick should certainly be considered for exotics, though speed on the win end generally remains strong for this age bracket.
Replay study was the first order of business handicapping this group.
BREEZE ON BY and LITTLE DEMON race uncoupled for trainer Ralph Nicks. Both are extremely viable in this spot for owners who aim for the Florida Sires Stakes series annually. BREEZE ON BY will be the more ballyooed of the two going in, romping by 6 lengths as the 4-5 favorite in his only start. But he wheels back quickly in 3 weeks' time, squeezing a July 29 short breeze in-between starts. His 87 BRIS late pace figure was best of any in this field and his win was at the 6-furlong trip. He figures to be best among the front-end types, but will take pressure from post 2 and his gallop-out in his debut was just okay. LITTLE DEMON could fly under the radar some. He was runner-up in an open-company maiden special weight June 20 behind next-out allowance winner Papetu, who looks like the circuit's top early juvenile and one who is headed toward the Saratoga Special. LITTLE DEMON was game chasing throughout and did not have his spirit broken when chasing Pepetu in what was a very professional effort in defeat. His owner Jacks or Better Farm has a record 19 wins in the Florida Sire Stakes series all-time.
SON OF A BEAST will take plenty of betting action after a debut win as the 3-2 favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher. But this son of The Big Beast needed 13.04 the final furlong at the 5-furlong dash trip and was ridden all-out in victory June 24. He did gallop out fine, but his runner-up pursuer returned July 17 and settled for second again at a short price. SON OF A BEAST might be an underlay price to avoid, though respected connections.
GATSBY returns to Gulfstream after an unsuccessful, but bold, road trip to Churchill for the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes. He was drilled there by leading national 2-year-old Cazadero, but was an April dash winner at Gulfstream in his debut. Jockey Hector Berrios takes over as Emisael Jaramillo opts to ride BREEZE ON BY. Statistically, Berrios has been riding as well as anyone at GP in the past few weeks.
CASALSA goes off the claim for Mike Maker, joining rookie barnmate LOST LOVER. The former wired maiden claiming $50,000-types in his second start, where he visually didn't overwhelm with up-and-down action to the wire and a weak gallop-out at 5 furlongs. LOST LOVER debuts from a tough rail draw given the full field size. 1/ST BET stats show Maker rarely tries to debut a 2-year-old in stakes company, but did win with 2 of 3 attempts from 2013-'16 with 4-1 and 5-1 propositions. LOST LOVER is the more appealing of the pair.
VALIANT THOR may be fastest the first quarter-mile. He blitzed a soft crew at Tampa Bay Downs early and late July 1 when never in doubt. The question is: What did he beat? The third-place finisher since returned in maiden claiming company at Gulfstream and mustered only a fourth-place finish. Jockey Ron Allen Jr. pulled off a trio of Gulfstream upsets last week at $15, $27 and $32 prices.
PALADIO won for $25,000 maiden claiming in his May debut and then was no match for the aforementioned Papetu on July 5 in allowance company, where he was outfinished late by FAMOUS GENT. It's FAMOUS GENT who appeals most of this duo for trainer Eddie Plesa after a disastrous start. He should be well-suited for the additional distance.
BOCA BOY rolled to victory at 18-1 in his July 17 debut for lower-profile connections. He was a bit green splashing through the slop with his head carried high, but didn't look bad at a price. If it's wet, BOCA BOY moves up. His time was .05 slower than a split division of the same-day race.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: LITTLE DEMON intrigues after gamely chasing a bear in his only start, and he has posted 4 workouts since the debut to build foundation.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: MR TINGLES shocked a maiden group at 35-1 on July 17 with a bold move up the rail and held off a 4-way charge to the wire with a good gallop-out. He went .05 faster than BOCA BOY's victory the same day. In a race loaded with early speed, you could envision a similar late attempt, but he'll need some traffic help.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $45 win LITTLE DEMON. $20 exacta part-wheel LITTLE DEMON over BREEZE ON BY and FAMOUS GENT ($40). $5 exacta part-wheel LITTLE DEMON, BREEZE ON BY and FAMOUS GENT over MR TINGLES ($15).