June 5, 2023

Princess Rooney, Smile Sprint will award Breeders’ Cup berths

Curlin's Approval captures the Royal Delta Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park with jockey Luis Saez aboard on Saturday, February 18, 2017 (c) Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography

Gulfstream Park plays hosts to the Summit of Speed on Saturday, featuring seven stakes worth $1 million.

The card is highlighted by three graded contests, two of which are “Win & You’re In” events for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar on November 3-4.

The $250,000 Princess Rooney Stakes (G2) awards an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), something Curlin’s Approval will try to take full advantage of under jockey Luis Saez.

The duo teamed up in February to take the Royal Delta Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream going 1 1/16 miles, but finished fifth next out in the seven-furlong Inside Information Stakes (G2). Trained by Marty Wolfson, Curlin’s Approval was no factor when seventh in the Matron Stakes (G3) most recently, and gets Saez taking back the mount.

“It’s always good to run at home,” breeder and co-owner Happy Alter said. “She won a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 20 days apart. Sometimes horses will bounce a little. She had just won the Grade 2 stake at a mile and a sixteenth. Coming off fractions of :24-and-change and so on, she was a little flat-footed coming out of the gate going seven-eighths (last out). For this race, we’ve sharpened her up. Even though she showed she could win two turns, the majority of her stakes have been six-furlongs, seven-eighths.”

Among those lining up to face Curlin’s Approval on Saturday will be Distinta, Wheatfield and Dearest, the respective first through third-place runners of the Inside Information. While that was the last race for both Distinta and Dearest, Wheatfield returned to be eighth in the Vagrancy Handicap (G3) and fifth in the Bed o’ Races Stakes (G3) in her past pair of efforts.

“After the last race, we wanted to give her time to relax,” trainer Victor Barboza Jr. said of Distinta. “She’s doing very good.”

Also of note in the field are Grade 1 heroine Birdatthewire, who ran third in last year’s Princess Rooney, and Grade 2 victress Lightstream, third in the Bed o’ Roses most recently.

One race after the Princess Rooney, Imperial Hint will try to keep to his winning ways in the $250,000 Smile Sprint Stakes (G3), which offers a free berth to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).

The Luis Carvajal Jr.-trained four-year-old captured an allowance/optional claimer on December 17 at Parx Racing, scored a 3 1/4-length win in the Fire Plug Stakes on January 14 and most recently wired the February 18 General George Stakes (G3), the latter two at Laurel Park.

That latter win earned Imperial Hint an invite to Meydan for the Dubai Golden Shaeen (UAE-G1), but the Imperialism colt developed pneumonia shortly after arriving and missed the race. He recovered in Dubai before returning home in late April.

“He’s doing fantastic. I was very happy the way he came out of the trip from Dubai to the states,” Carvajal said. “I was thinking about giving him extra couple weeks off when we got back but I walked the horse for a few days and he was tough to handle. He came back in good form and that’s why I got him back to the track, and he’s been good since then.

“This little guy, I have a lot of faith in him. He’s doing pretty good. He looks good,” Carvajal added. “He hasn’t run since February…(but) he’s a small horse so it doesn’t take too much to get him fit. Right now he’s showing me he’s ready to go through the workouts and his attitude and body language. He’s ready.”

Jockey Javier Castellano will be aboard as Imperial Hint tries for his fourth straight win in this spot.

Grade 2 winners Awesome Banner and Delta Bluesman will do their best to upset Imperial Hint’s apple cart. The former is 6-2-1 from 11 starts at Gulfstream, including last year’s Swale Stakes (G2) and Hutcheson Stakes (G3).

Delta Bluesman is the defending champion of this race and gets blinkers added to help his chances. The seven-year-old son of Wagon Limit ran in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last November, and was placed fifth following a rough trip.

“In the Breeders’ Cup he got cut up really bad and when horses were coming next to him he was shying away from them. He would quit and then take off running again. We made some equipment changes and I’m working him in company now, and he’s coming around really good,” trainer Jorge Navarro said. “I think I have him training the way he was training last year when we went down south.

“He loves Gulfstream. I claimed this horse three years ago for $25,000. I know what I’m asking is a lot. But I know when he’s right he can beat any horse out there.”

Trainer Ken Decker had something similar to say about Awesome Banner.

“Gulfstream is his racetrack. He hasn’t been down there this winter and spring but that’s his racetrack,” Decker said. “He knows it, he likes it, and he does well down there.”

The $150,000 Carry Back Stakes (G3) doesn’t offer a Breeders’ Cup berth to the winner, but the seven-furlong contest still drew 11 runners, including a former Breeders’ Cup contestant.

That would be Three Rules, who romped to a sweep of the Florida Sire Stakes last year over the track. The Jose Pinchin trainee tried the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) next out and ran sixth in his first foray outside of Gulfstream Park.

The Gone Astray sophomore has yet to score in four starts this year, but did just miss in the Swale Stakes (G2) to kick off 2017 and filled the third spot in both the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Chick Lang Stakes.

“He’s as good as ever,” Pinchin said. “He’s been knocking heads with the best horses this year.

“I think seven-eighths is his ideal distance. He has a high cruising speed – seven-eighths should be his best journey.”

Classic Rock tried to turn a four-length romp in the Roar Stakes at Gulfstream into victory at Belmont Park in the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) last, but the Katherine Ritvo trainee wound up tiring to 10th in that latter contest. The dark bay colt will try again at this familiar venue.