Handicapping a Quiet Trio of Gulfstream Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The third weekend in March is shaping up to be a relatively quiet one on the horse racing front. Not a single Road to the Kentucky Derby or Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier is on the agenda.

However, Gulfstream Park has assembled a competitive Saturday card highlighted by three stakes. Let's give each of the feature races a quick look:

Any Limit S.

I can't argue with anyone who wishes to support #5 Spirit Wind in this six-furlong dash for three-year-old fillies. Conditioned by hot trainer Ralph Nicks (a 31% winner at Gulfstream this meet), Spirit Wind was tons the best in a maiden special weight for Florida-breds over this track and distance last month, leading all the way to dominate by 15 1/2 lengths.

But I prefer the more experienced #6 Strategic Bird. The speedy daughter of Noble Bird likewise broke her maiden in spectacular fashion against Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park, carving out fast fractions of :21.96 and :45.16 before drawing off to win by 12 3/4 lengths. She then showed impressive determination in the 5 1/2-furlong Sandpiper S. at Tampa Bay Downs, setting splits of :21.93 and :44.91 before digging deep to win by a neck.

Strategic Bird was beaten to third place in Tampa's seven-furlong Gasparilla S. two months ago, but this wasn't a bad effort by any means. After pressing fast fractions of :22.09 and :44.65, Strategic Bird led into the homestretch, only to get caught in the final furlong by a pair of late runners.

Cutting back to six furlongs should suit Strategic Bird just fine, and the grit she's shown setting fast fractions against stakes competition should come in handy in the Any Limit. I believe Strategic Bird can beat Spirit Wind to the lead and maintain her advantage all the way to the finish line.

Silks Run S.

There are many logical contenders in this five-furlong grass dash, but I have to side with #3 Arrest Me Red, who boasts a perfect 5-for-5 record sprinting on turf.

Four of those wins have come in stakes, including gate-to-wire scores in the Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational S. (G3) and Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship S. traveling six furlongs on the New York circuit last fall. So far, no one has figured out a way to catch Arrest Me Red over his preferred distances and surface.

Arrest Me Red hasn't run since November, but he's been training up a storm at Payson Park (clocking three bullet workouts since Feb. 12) and should be ready to roll for ultra-hot trainer Wesley Ward, who has gone 9-for-21 (43%) at Gulfstream Park this winter. Hot jockey Irad Ortiz (a 27% winner at Gulfstream) is named to ride, and Arrest Me Red has the tactical speed to be prominent from the outset, a benefit since 43% of five-furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream are won by pacesetters.

For all these reasons, Arrest Me Red looks tough to deny in the Silks Run. I expect him to start his season on a winning note.

Hutcheson S.

Seven speedy sophomores will sprint six furlongs in this competitive dirt dash, including such proven stakes types as Inaugural S. winner #7 Cattin, Pasco S. runner-up #5 Provocateur, and Breeders' Futurity (G1) fourth-place finisher #2 American Sanctuary.

But despite the quality of the field, the runner to beat is surely #4 Nitrous Channel. After all, the son of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist ran impressively in his debut over this track, distance, and class level on Feb. 5, tracking a solid pace before taking command to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

This was a strong performance in many respects. Nitrous Channel ran fast on the clock, stopping the timer in 1:10.03 to record solid speed figures of 94 (Beyer) and 97 (Brisnet). Just as importantly, third-place finisher Unikee returned to win his next start over the same track, distance, and class level, flattering Nitrous Channel's performance.

Nitrous Channel's tactical speed is appealing, and the presence of jockey Tyler Gaffalione (a solid 19% winner at Gulfstream) adds to the appeal. Nitrous Channel sold for $625,000 as a juvenile and is nominated to the Triple Crown, so his future looks bright, and victory in the Hutcheson looms as the next stage of his ascent.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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