This week features the last two stakes of the year in Chicago, the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity and Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante for Illinois-bred juveniles. This week also features a seminal Grade One for frosh fillies, the Starlet Stakes (formerly Hollywood Starlet) from Los Alamitos.
And for the second straight week, Picks & Ponderings also looks at Gulfstream Park. Instead of the multi-stakes bonanza of Claiming Crown Day, the action is scaled back to only look at one race. Yet the race in the spotlight is the first of the Gulfstream Championship meet’s graded stakes, the G3 Sugar Swirl Stakes. For three-year-old and upward fillies and mares on the dirt going six panels, it carries a purse of a hundred thousand dollars.
The race honors Sugar Swirl, an Ontario-bred by Touch Gold out of Astrapi by Distinctive Pro. She was owned by Stonach Stables and bred at Adena Springs Stables, those the nameplates of Gulfstream Park magnate Frank Stronach (the same one of Frank’s Beach fame and of ownership of the Gulfstream oval). As a house horse, Sugar Swirl swept the female sprint handicap series at Gulfstream – the First Lady Handicap, the Hurricane Bertie, and the Shirley Jones Handicap (now named for Inside Information), in the winter of 2008. Those three wins, coupled with an another allowance win, made her four of five in the win column over the Gulfstream oval. She saw the starter twenty-three times overall, winning ten times and getting in the trifecta nine more. Trained for most of her career by Brian Lynch, Sugar Swirl did become a Grade One-placed mare with a third place finish in the G1 Ballerina at Saratoga in August of 2008.
The Sugar Swirl Stakes moved to its December position in 2011 after typically being staged in January. One year before in 2010, the race was renamed the Sugar Swirl Stakes. First run in 1981, it was known as the First Lady Handicap (not to be confused with the one mile grass event for females during FallStars at Keeneland) and has always been at Gulfstream and run over the dirt at three-quarters of a mile. Awarded Grade Three status in 1993, notable winners beyond Sugar Swirl in 2008 include
Calder Gulfsream Park West stakes nameplate U Can Do It (1998), Gulfstream graded stakes namesake Hurricane Bertie (2000), double winner Harmony Lodge (2003, 2004), and another Gulfstream stakes honoree in Any Limit (2007).
All races in this preview are slated for Saturday December 13. Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. All post times given below are those given by Equibase as these post times are purely an approximation and the track is known for running races after the advertised post time.
Updated December 11th with morning line odds.
Gulfstream Park — Race 3 — G3 Sugar Swirl Stakes — Six Furlongs on Dirt — post time 1:33 pm ET
Only six are slated to see the starter in this event. It looks like no one can go with R FREE ROLL early and should she get a good break, will be the one they’ll have to catch on the engine. She threw what the past performance spells as a clunker in the TCA Stakes during FallStars, but the rail during that event was not the place to be from this corner, and she was the inside speed that wilted at Keeneland. Back in Florida she goes, where’s got a win and five more podium finishes over the local dirt and was good enough to ship north to take down the G2 Honorable Miss during the Saratoga meet. The bullet work two back shows the starch isn’t off this runner. In the Honorable Miss, R FREE ROLL bested MERRY MEADOW and MERRY MEADOW goes second off the layoff. Winner of a minor stakes across town at Gulfstream Park West, she could be cycling up to her best in the third start off the layoff. A G3 winner earlier in the year by virtue of a Vagrancy win in the Spring, MERRY MEADOW showed squat in the G2 Gallant Bloom losing to a then sharp Artemis Agrotera and next-out winner La Verdad. While she gets her target to run down, she couldn’t reel in R FREE ROLL at the Spa and the feeling is she can’t here. CENTRIQUE got good last winter by winning on Claiming Crown Day, an “NC” allowance, and being third in the G2 Fritchie at Laurel. After that the wheels fell off, even though she was in graded and listed stakes all over Florida. Put away and being brought back second time out, a 20% strike rate for the trainer, she’s three of five in the win column over the oval. More, both those non-wins came during this dark period in the summer. Perhaps she likes the winter time, as she also threw a recent bullet over the local strip.
#4 R FREE ROLL (8/5)
#2 MERRY MEADOW (2/1)
#5 CENTRIQUE (6/1)
Longshot: While CENTRIQUE chased home MERRY MEADOW and next-out Claiming Crown winner Best Behavior in the Sky Beauty Stakes over at the former Calder, #6 OL DONYO (4/1) was in the mix over there as well. This one of the #curlinbabies was third in that minor stakes to MERRY MEADOW and Best Behavior. OL DONYO has gotten into some form since transferring from Terranova to Wolfson, and she’s two for two over the oval with a stakes win two back. Her best race came when there was a quick pace in a twice-other-than, and R FREE ROLL almost assures that on the front end. It’s also the “other” Wolfson, as CENTRIQUE’s (also a Wolfson trainee) past winter form may lure bettors.
You can take “Picks and Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.