One thing is certain about Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2). A Florida-bred runner will prevail in the $300,000, one-mile test as all six entrants hail from the Sunshine State.
The compact field is not short on depth. Topping the field are millionaire Jackson Bend, Sunshine Millions Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and multiple stakes winner Tackleberry.
Jackson Bend was impressive in rolling to victory in the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 14. The 5-year-old son of Journeyman Stud stallion Hear No Evil is a winner in 8 of 23 career starts and has bankrolled more than $1.3 million in a stellar career.
Trained by Nick Zito for Robert LaPenta and breeder and co-owner Fred Brei, Jackson Bend is produced from the Tabasco Cat mare Sexy Stockings. He will be ridden once again by John Velazquez, who was aboard for the Hal’s Hope score.
“Jackson is Jackson,” said Zito. “He always shows up. The horse is doing well. He’s coming up to the race the way you want a horse to come up to it. You’ve got them all to beat. He has one of the biggest hearts in a horse I’ve ever seen. To be around (at) two, three, four years, he’s amazing.”
Jockey Ramon Dominguez flies in to take a return call on Mucho Macho Man for trainer Kathy Ritvo after they teamed up for an impressive victory in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic over Ron the Greek here on Jan. 28, the latter going on to capture the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) last Saturday.
“He couldn’t be training any better,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “He’ll run a good race. He’ll run his race. He tries every time.”
Luis Olivares’ 5-year-old Tackleberry won this race last year and will defend his title while making his first start since a ninth-place finish in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park on May 30 at the end of a long campaign. The son of Montbrook emerged as a fan favorite here last winter winning the Sunshine Millions Classic and Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2) before this race. Jockey Rajiv Maragh is named to ride.
“I know this is a tough spot, but we have to get him started someplace,” said Olivares Wednesday. “I don’t think he can be 100 percent off this kind of layoff, but he’s doing great. He’s a bigger, stronger horse than last year. I won’t be disappointed if he gets beat Saturday. There will be a lot of good races for him this year.”
Cajun Breeze, bred by Curtis Mikkelsen and Patricia Horth, has run well in each of three starts at the meet following for trainer Michael Yates. The chestnut son of Congrats finished second and broke his maiden in two starts here in December before a very good runner-up finish in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 28, beaten a half-length by Soaring Stocks, a rival once again on Saturday.
Photo of Jackson Bend courtesy of Gulfstream Park/Coglianese photo