MIAMI -- After a series of unlucky trips and frustrating losses that began when he was pinned down on the rail and forced to race against the grain of the track bias in the Grade 2 Carry Back Stakes on the 2006 Summit of Speed card, it was only fitting that Mach Ride finally had the breaks go his way for the most important race of his career - Saturday's $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap.
Breaking from the outside over a strip that became speed favoring after being inundated with rain earlier in the day, Mach Ride made the most of his opportunity. He stalked the early leaders under Elvis Trujillo en route to a two-length decision in a field that included nationally ranked sprinters Smokey Stover and Fabulous Strike. Another locally based runner, the former claimer Paradise Dancer, finished second.
"You could see by the end of the day what speed was doing, and I told Elvis not to be afraid of anybody in the race and not to let anyone get away," trainer Steve Standridge said.
Trujillo followed the boss's orders perfectly. His job to stick with the early speed was made easier by the decision Standridge made last month before the Champali Stakes, when he put blinkers on Mach Ride for the first time.
"We'd been trying to rate and take him back in his previous races and I finally decided to try adding blinkers and letting him do what he wants, which is to just run right out of there," Standridge explained. "And those two changes have really made a big improvement."
Standridge, a mainstay on the south Florida circuit for more than 20 years, has campaigned numerous stakes winners, including the fleet filly J J'sdream, for whom one of the races on Saturday's Summit of Speed undercard was named. But he said winning the Smile is definitely the highlight of his career.
"That certainly was a lot of fun on Saturday, and a lot of factors made it special," Standridge said. "We beat two of the top sprinters in the country, obviously the money was good, and because it was a Grade 2, this victory should enhance Mach Ride's value as a stud prospect."
Standridge said he's made no short-term plans for Mach Ride, although long range he's thinking about the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"I'd love to take him back to Saratoga since he ran so well there last summer," Standridge said, referring to Mach Ride's troubled fourth-place finish behind Henny Hughes in the 2006 King's Bishop. "But the next sprint stakes up there" - the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt - "is on the 28th, which is just too soon. Although after this race I'll admit the Breeders' Cup is definitely in the back of my mind."
Along with Mach Ride and Paradise Dancer's one-two finish in the Smile, the locals had a good day on the Summit of Speed program. Yonagucci and Big City Man captured the $100,000 J J'sdream and Criterium stakes for 2-year-olds, while D'artagnans'spirit led a sweep of the top three spots in the $100,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Handicap. In addition, Yesbyjimminy picked up third behind Black Seventeen and Teuflesberg in the Grade 2 Carry Back.
Summit pick five pool falls short
Despite a downpour accompanied by dangerous lightning, which forced track management to delay the start of Saturday's second event by approximately 20 minutes, the Summit of Speed card was another success from a racing standpoint. The event attracted more than 30 ship-ins from around the country, including the nation's No. 1-rated sprinter, Smokey Stover.
The only real setback came in the guaranteed $500,000 pick five wager, which attracted a pool of less than $136,000. The track had to make up the difference.
Aside from the bad weather, part of the reason for the poor showing in the pick five pool may have been because the minimum wager was upped from $1 last year to $2. Last year, the pool swelled to $477,000 with a $1 minimum bet.
Because of the difference between the actual pool and the guaranteed pool of $500,000, those who correctly selected the winning pick five combo were rewarded with an astounding payoff of $84,444 on a five-race sequence where the parlay came to only $4,200. The payoff would have been approximately $22,900 if calculated on the actual pick five pool, still more than five times the value of the parlay.
* Trujillo and Clinton Potts were the riding stars Saturday, both winning two of the eight stakes. Trujillo added the Smile to his earlier victory aboard Big City Man in the Criterium, while Potts won his two stakes back to back with Black Seventeen in the Carry Back and River's Prayer in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney.
* Jeff Cookson, an air traffic controller at Miami International Airport, took down first prize of $12,725 in Sunday's Handicapping Summit. Cookson, who said his "secret weapon" for handicapping is the Ragozin Sheets, also earned a spot in the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in 2008, along with second- and third-place finishers, Fred Carach and Bob Rubin.