- Horse Racing - Stallion Stakes Series kicks off at Calder

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Monday, July 31
Stallion Stakes Series kicks off at Calder

The third decade of the Florida Stallion Stakes series at Calder begins this month with a pair of $75,000 races at six furlongs, the Dr. Fager and Desert Vixen Stakes, on Aug. 10, followed by the Affirmed and Susan's Girl -- this time worth $125,000 -- at seven furlongs on the month's final day. And as usual with lightly raced juveniles, trying to forecast just who will star in those races is an exercise in folly.

"A lot of the better 2-year-olds probably haven't run but once or twice yet if at all and even among those who have you can expect some to improve a lot from race to race," says trainer Frank Gomez, a man with the credentials to know based upon his dozen wins in the series history.

Still, as with any grouping, there have been standouts amongst the 816 foals of 2000 for whom a series of three eligibility payments have been made. Among them, in both the colt and filly division, are the progeny of a surprising number of young Florida stallions, each trying to cut into the record 14 winners produced by the late Valid Appeal.

For example, Suave Prospect, whose oldest runners are now three, was represented by the impressive winner of the June 29 J J's Dream Stakes at Calder Heavenly Miss. "She has one of the longest strides of any filly I've ever bred," said Mike Sherman, owner of Farnsworth Farms which both bred Heavenly Miss and stands the sire. "She's the kind who can really do well in the Stallion Stakes."

Angel Salinas, who trains the majority of the Farnsworth horses that make it to the track, agrees with Sherman on the potential of Heavenly Miss but has a more immediate concern. "When I breeze her by herself she gets kind of lazy," he said, noting that he is hoping to get the opportunity to run in an allowance race before the FSS begins. "She's bred to run longer but she needs some company on the track."

Sherman, either independently or in partnership, has bred the winners of 10 Stallion Stakes races, one more than runner-up Harry Mangurian, Jr. and two more than Ocala Stud Farms. Other series prospects that represent Sherman as a breeder this year include colts Honorable King and King Robyn. The latter, sold by Farnsworth to Hector Garcia just prior to his impressive maiden win on June 8, had an excuse for a sub-par performance in the colt counterpart to the J J's Dream, the July 6 Criterium Stakes.

"The pace was much too quick," said Salinas, retained by Garcia as trainer, "We've done a lot of work with him in the morning to get him to relax but when they run three rabbits in there you can't do much." Salinas was referring to a trio of horses from the barn of Jim Hatchett that blistered the Criterium's first quarter-mile in :21.82.

Honorable King, by contrast, appears the kind who will relish more ground if his July 4 maiden-breaking win is any indication.. "So far he's done everything right for me," Salinas said of Honorable King.

In addition to Suave Prospect, there are a number of other second-crop stallions poised to make their marks on this year's Stallion Stakes. Open Forum, for example, is likely to be represented by Running Debate, a statuesque filly who went into the J J's Dream undefeated by "just didn't fire" according to trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. West Acre, meanwhile, is the sire of perhaps the most impressive debut winner seen at Calder this year: Ivanavinalot.

"She's the kind of filly who gets you really excited," said unexcitable Kathleen O'Connell, who conditions Ivanavinalot -- say it aloud with an Eastern European accent and you'll get the play on words -- for breeder Gilbert Campbell. Noting the ease with which the bay won by 11 1/2-lengths on June 30 at the taxing distance of 6 1/2-furlongs, O'Connell noted that she came back happy and ready to run again. "She was right back in training in two days," she admired.

Pitch A Penny, from second-crop sire Eltish, is likely to be the distaff representative for the FSS of trainer Ralph Ziadie who has won the last two editions of the Desert Vixen with Pharmstar (2001) and Valid Forbes (2000). "It looks like she might want to go longer," he warns, mentioning her debut in which Pitch A Penny stood virtually still when the gates sprang before mounting a furious rush that put her within a length of the win, "We'll try to break her maiden and see if we can't defend our titles."

Other fillies that may bear watching in the Stallion Stakes are J J's Dream third-place finisher Formal Miss, the Gomez-trained Funny Farm, and Pasta Fazool. The latter is from the final U.S. crop of End Sweep, whose 39 progeny eligible for this year's series is the most of any stallion.

The second-crop mania extends to the colt side of the FSS as well in the form of Scrubs, a Jacks or Better Farms' homebred son of Dr. Caton who won his debut by nearly four lengths on June 22. "Our Stallion Stakes horse," says farm owner Fred Brei, although that praise is tinged with more than a bit of regret since not only is Brei the breeder/owner of promising juveniles Crimson and Roses, Hear No Evil and Awesome of Course – all of whom, sired by Kentucky-based stallions, are ineligible for the series -- but also of Massive.

That son of Tactical Advantage, whose size befits his name, crushed a maiden field in his debut by twelve-lengths in one of the fastest 4 1/2-furlong times of the meet. And though Tactical Advantage stands at Doug Henderson's Marablue Farm and was represented by 21 FSS eligible runners in 2001, he is not one of the 134 stallions whose offspring are eligible for the 2002 series. "I missed the nomination payment a couple of years ago by a few days," admits Henderson, who has taken steps to compensate some breeders, including Brei. "They didn't notify us that the payment was due and they wouldn't make any exceptions."

Ziadie, who saddled the runners-up of each of the split-division Dr. Fager last year, believes he has a strong hand in this year's colt segment as well. "I got goose bumps watching him," the trainer describes of the easy manner in which Paul Robsham's son of Montbrook, Trust N Luck, won at first asking last month. "I'm hoping and praying nothing happens between now and when the series starts."

Like Ziadie, Manny Tortora is a prominent Calder-based trainer – his nine FSS wins are second only to Gomez, whom he recently passed as the track's all-time winningest trainer—with a big chance in the series. "He's the only one I've seen who wants to go long," he said after his Supah Blitz blew the start and still almost ran down Hear No Evil in the Criterium. Tortora, who trained both Supah Blitz' sire Mecke and dam Boots'n Jackie to series wins, called the colt "A real runner."

Other colts likely pointing towards the open divisions of the Stallion Stakes are Kissin Bold from rookie trainer Steve Rydowski, the stakes-winning Sweet Promises, and possibly another Tortora runner Who's Crying Now. "You know me," says the man whose 87 Stallion Stakes starters are the most of any trainer, "If I can I'll always try to be there."

As will we all.

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