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
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
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.
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
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.