2017 Princess Rooney Stakes and Smile Sprint Stakes Preview

This Saturday features a pair of Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races: both at Gulfstream Park, and both for sprinters aged three and up.  Picks and Ponderings previews both races in detail.

The Smile Sprint Stakes (G3), a six-furlong sprint on the dirt, welcomes open company and offers its winner a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).  The fillies’ and mares’ complement, the Princess Rooney Stakes (G2), covers seven furlongs on the dirt.  That race’s winner punches her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Full video for both the Princess Rooney and the Smile, just as for all racing from Gulfstream Park, is available on Gulfstream’s online live stream.

Race 12: Princess Rooney Stakes Presented by Hardacre Farm (G2), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:34pm EDT

Princess Rooney is a rather odd namesake for a sprint.  However, she indubitably deserved a graded stakes named after her, and Calder (the original site of this race) fit well.  Born in 1980, she began her career with four straight wins at Calder before advancing into graded company.  She won the Frizette (G1) that year as well, as well as the Kentucky Oaks (G1) the following year.  She carried her form into her four-year-old year, and finished her career on a high note: a win in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in 1984.

The inaugural Princess Rooney was run at Calder the next year, going seven furlongs on the dirt.  The race dialed back to six furlongs in 1997, and first earned a grade two years later.  Most recently run as a Grade I in 2013, it is now a Grade II, and keeps its $250,000 purse.  In addition to purse money, the winner also receives an automatic Win And You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.  To date, no horse has won the Princess Rooney on the way to Breeders’ Cup glory.  Musical Romance is the only horse so far to win both a Breeders’ Cup title and this race: she won the Filly and Mare Sprint in 2011, and the Princess Rooney in 2012.

Musical Romance scores in the 2012 Princess Rooney Handicap.

CURLIN’S APPROVAL, if she brings her best, is the one to beat here.  That said?  She has burned a lot of money in her last two starts.  Give her a mulligan for her last out; so far, it’s safe to assume she’s a Gulfstream Park Horse.  But, two back in the Inside Information (G2)?  That happened over her home course, and she finished up the track at 3/5.  As much as she loves the Gulfstream track, she is a bit hard to trust at a short price once again, particularly given her 5: 2-0-0 record going seven furlongs.  You can’t take CURLIN’S APPROVAL’s feast-or-famine record at short odds, and if she wins, this space will let her beat it.

LIGHTSTREAM, in the next gate out, appeals the most.  She comes her for her third start of the year, and though she’s winless in three tries so far this year, LIGHTSTREAM took a step forward from start one to start two.  Last out, she was third beaten less than a length by By the Moon, on By the Moon’s home course.  A return to that makes her competitive, and a step forward makes her downright dangerous.  Though she has only run at Gulfstream once, that outing was a good one: a resounding debut win in March of last year, going the same distance as today’s race, where she fired a career best Brisnet figure in a race that turned out to be a key.  She closed from off the pace that day, another positive on a track that has such a reputation for being speed-friendly.  LIGHTSTREAM has the clear best late pace of the field here, and should get the setup she wants with DEAREST, CURLIN’S APPROVAL, MORE THAN A PARTY, CONCEALED WITH A KISS, and KINSLEY KISSES all preferring to be on or very close to the pace.  This should make her difficult to beat.

Among those types withe front-end gas, it’s DEAREST who deserves the longest look.  In a race replete with speed, she has as much early zip as anyone, and also has the ability to press the pace and survive a pace battle.  That ability should serve her well here.  Though she has not raced since a close third behind DISTINTA in the Inside Information in March, she has repeatedly shown the ability to run well off a short break…and to run well period, as she has never missed the board in eight starts.  That includes two wins and that last-out third in her tries going seven furlongs, as well as a 6: 4-0-2 line at Gulfstream Park.  Though she loses rider Edgard Zayas to DISTINTA, she does get Emisael Jaramillo in the irons.  Jaramillo has ridden DEAREST twice, and has two win photos to show for it.  DEAREST is consistently good, consistently fast, and should survive best among the front-end brigade.

Finally, this looks like a place where BIRDATTHEWIRE could get back into form.  She makes her second start of the year, and her second start since returning the Tom Proctor barn.  Toss her last — it was her first race since November, and that last out was five and a half furlongs on Tapeta.  Five and a half furlongs is too short, and BIRDATTHEWIRE is a dirt horse.  This mare has solid back form at Gulfstream: two wins and a second during their three-year-old series in 2015, and a second in the Princess Rooney last year.  She has a proven ability to close over the Gulfstream course, and her best races make her as good as anyone here.  BIRDATTHEWIRE so often seems to find her best with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons, and she gets him back today.





Longshot:  #4 DISTINTA won her last start, the Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream.  This is a tougher Grade 2 than that race was, and her price ought to reflect that.  Her career record at seven furlongs is a solid 10: 3-2-2.  And, though she’s really just a Gulfstream Park Horse, she’s at Gulfstream here.  Though John Velazquez does not return to the irons from that Inside Information win, she gets Edgard Zayas back in the irons.  Zayas rode DISTINTA well in her five previous starts over the Gulfstream course, and is a generally strong rider in sprints and in Hallandale Beach.  Her running style should also suit the race well: she should be able to stay off the hot pace, but not too far off, and muster a rally late.  She will have to bring her best to get the job done here, but if she does, she has the best chance among the price horses to make her mark.

Race 13: Smile Sprint Stakes (G3), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 6:06pm EDT

Originally run in 1984 as the Miami Beach Sprint Handicap, the race was renamed after 1986 champion sprinter Smile in 1999.  Smile started his career at Calder (the original site for the Smile) rattling off seven wins in a row there to begin his career.  Smile was, at one point, also a stakes namesake at Arlington Park.  He won two graded stakes there: the 1985 Arlington Classic (G3) and the 1986 Equipoise Mile (G3).  (The Equipoise Mile is now known as the Hanshin Cup.)  He also won a race downstate, annexing the Fairmount Park Derby (G3) in 1985.  Though the race was downgraded from a Grade 2 to a Grade 3 for this year, it retains its purse of $250,000, and still offers a Win And You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint for the winning horse.

To date, the Smile has not produced a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner.  The most accomplished winner of this race to date has a somewhat more tenuous local connection than Smile himself: he shares a name with a Chicago sports mascot.  Benny the Bull, 2008 Eclipse award winner for champion sprinter, won the Sunshine Millions Sprint, the Golden Shaheen (G1), the True North (G2), and the Smile (G2) during his championship year.  He returned the next year to finish second in the Smile, beaten a length and a half by Zayat Stables longshot Eaton’s Gift.

Benny the Bull closes to win the 2008 Smile Sprint Handicap.

AWESOME BANNER comes here third off the lay, and third off the barn change.  Though his first start for new trainer Kenneth Decker was a substandard tilt in the Carter, he went blinkers-on for that start.  The blinkers didn’t work, they took them off.  Toss it.  His second start of the year came in the Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3).  there, he came alive.  He was right back to the AWESOME BANNER he was through his three-year-old year and early stages of his four-year-old year.  He stalked the pace, and finished third — just half a length behind Whitmore, and a head behind A. P. Indian.  Neither of those sprint heavyweights come down for the Smile.  Instead, it’s IMPERIAL HINT who looms large.  But, that one gets company on the front end.  Furthermore, he has never tried the Gulfstream course.  AWESOME BANNER, on the other hand, is well proven in Hallandale Beach.  Though he has run good races elsewhere, all six of his victories have come at Gulfstream.  Though most of them have come at extended one-turn distances, he does have a win going six furlongs — and if AWESOME BANNER can hang with the likes of Whitmore and A. P. Indian at six panels in his current form, he should be tough in the Smile.

IMPERIAL HINT found open stakes company a little beyond him last year, but turned a corner through the winter.  He has grown into himself at four, and ticked off daylight victories in both the Fire Plug Stakes and the General George (G3) at Laurel in the winter.  Though he has been on the shelf since February, he has been firing his usual morning bullets through June, and has been able to fire fresh before.  The biggest questions with IMPERIAL HINT go to course and running style.  He has never run at Gulfstream before.  And, though he does have some back races in which he has come from a bit off the pace, these excellent recent efforts have come on the front end.  With CORONADO AGAIN and defending champion DELTA BLUESMAN in the field, IMPERIAL HINT will have to outlast some other speed to punch his ticket to Del Mar.

QUIJOTE gets a class test here, but this looks like a place where he could prove himself at the graded stakes level.  He comes here second off a break, and his first start back was solid — a daylight victory in the Big Drama Stakes.  That was only against Florida-breds, but it showed that QUIJOTE could handle the Gulfstream course well.  That was a seven-furlong race, but he has also hit the exacta in four of six starts going the six-panel trip of this race.  A reasonable step forward from that last race puts him right in range with the better competitors here.  His tactical versatility should help him here; expect QUIJOTE to set up a couple of lengths off the pace, and make a well-timed middle move under strong Gulfstream rider Luis Saez.





Longshot:  Among the longer-priced horses in the field, #1 ROYAL SQUEEZE has the most to recommend him.  His recent form is spotty, as he has raced only once since last September.  However, that one race was strong: a stalking daylight victory in the Jeblar Stakes at Gulfstream on April 30.  Between that and the victory he posted at Belmont three starts back, it looks like the five-year-old has settled into a stalking style, something that should suit him.  ROYAL SQUEEZE has done his best work at Guklfstream, so the track isn’t a question.  The biggest wild card is the distance: though ROYAL SQUEEZE has fifteen starts under his belt, and a lot of Gulfstream form at seven furlongs and a mile, he has not yet gone six furlongs on the main.  Still, he is by a strong six-furlong sire in Wildcat Heir, and the cutback in distance should keep him even a little further off the pace than he was in the seven-furlong tries.  If he can cut his seven-furlong form at Gulfstream back to six, he can make an impact at odds.


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