HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- S.S. Stone began the Gulfstream meet a low-level claiming horse. He ended it a graded stakes winner.
S.S. Stone won his fourth consecutive race of the meet when he persevered past Colizeo in upper stretch and then held off Jackson Bend to take the Grade 3, $100,000 Skip Away Stakes by two lengths at Gulfstream Park. It was one-length back to Colizeo in third. Drosselmeyer, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, finished fifth, beaten seven lengths.
S.S. Stone is a 5-year-old son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone owned by Robert LaPenta who began his career in Southern California with Doug O'Neill. The colt suffered an ankle injury that required screws and even after his return didn't seem to do well in California.
When O'Neill suggested to LaPenta that he drop in for a claiming price, LaPenta told O'Neill to send the horse to Nick Zito, who trained Birdstone. After S.S. Stone ran fifth in an optional claimer at Calder in December, Zito then ran S.S. Stone for a $25,000 claiming tag at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 5. The horse won by eight lengths -- wasn't claimed -- and went on to win two more races by open lengths.
"This is a big thing for me; I'm emotional about this race because my dear friends Marylou Whitney and John [Hendrickson] bred this horse and of course [being] by Birdstone,'' Zito said.
S. S. Stone had won from both on and off the pace, but Zito said he believes the horse's preferred style is to follow another horse.
Things fell into place when Colizeo, under Ramon Dominguez, went to the front and set fractions of 23.87 seconds 48.38, 1:12.49, and 1:36.49. Leparoux had Colizeo in second, within two lengths of the pace.
S. S. Stone went to challenge Colizeo in upper stretch and though COlizeo offered resistance for half the stretch, S.S. Stone continued on and had plenty left to hold off Jackson Bend, who LaPenta also owns and Zito used to train. That horse is now trained by Stanley Gold.
S.S. Stone covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.73 and returned $12 to win.