HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Trainer Mark Casse sent out Delightful Mary to finish third in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. And she wasn't even the best 2-year-old filly in his barn last season.
That honor belonged to Roxy Gap whose juvenile campaign came to a premature end just hours before she was to have her final Breeders' Cup prep in Woodbine's Natalma Stakes. On Wednesday, the undefeated Roxy Gap will kick off her 3-year-old campaign as well as help usher in the 2011 Gulfstream Park meeting when she returns as the likely favorite in the six-furlong, $100,000 Old Hat Stakes.
Roxy Gap was virtually unchallenged in her three starts at 2, winning those races by a combined margin of nearly 14 lengths. All three of her victories came at Woodbine, two over the synthetic surface and the last on grass.
"She was 6-5 in the morning line for the Natalma, but when we got to the barn the morning of the race she had a temperature of 100 and some filling between her hock and ankle in her right hind leg," said Casse. "A couple of hours later her temperature was 103 and it turned out she had an infection in her leg that forced us to give her a month off to recuperate. It was unfortunate because I really thought she was our Breeders' Cup filly at the time."
Casse has worked Roxy Gap three times since their arrival at Palm Meadows, and although she's never raced on dirt, he is convinced she'll handle the surface without any trouble.
"From what I've seen in her works, I don't think she'll have a problem with the track," said Casse. "My main concern is that she might get some dirt in her face, which is why I'm quite happy we drew the 6-hole and she'll break outside. Of course you always worry when you have a horse who has missed some time, especially one who had been sick, but she galloped out well at the end of both her five-furlong works and I think she's pretty fit."
Roxy Gap's chief competition could come from Final Mesa, and her trainer, Wesley Ward, is not as confident as Casse regarding his filly's fitness for her return from a similar five-month layoff. Like Roxy Gap, Final Mesa was an easy winner of her first three starts, but she has not raced since finishing a tiring sixth as the 9-5 favorite in Del Mar's Sorrento on Aug. 6.
"The layoff is a bit of a concern," said Ward. "Some of the other fillies in there might be a little more race-fit."
Only four other 3-year-fillies will compete in the Grade 3 Old Hat, Quantum Miss, Mis Vizcaya, It's Me Mom, and Pomeroys Pistol.
Quantum Miss was dominant against lesser company at the end of her short but promising 2-year-old campaign, winning her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at Parx Racing on Oct. 29 before returning to defeat fellow Pennsylvania-breds by 16 lengths in Penn National's Blue Mountain Stakes four weeks later. Trainer Anthony Dutrow, who did not bring his stable to south Florida this winter, sent Quantum Miss down early enough to get a feel for the track, breezing her a half-mile in 49.60 on Friday.
It's Me Mom won the Presque Isle Debutante Stakes by nearly seven lengths in September but failed as the 3-5 favorite when second in her first start over dirt, which came in the Sandpiper at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 26.