Meet the Contenders: Florida Sire Stakes Finals at Gulfstream Park | Saturday, December 2, 2023

Opening weekend of the Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park includes a pair of series finales in the Florida Sire Stakes divisions for 2-year-olds. Race 5 matches the colts and geldings in the $300,000 In Reality Stakes, while Race 10 puts the fillies center stage in the $300,000 My Dear Girl.

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Let’s meet the contenders for the Race 5 FSS In Reality:

#1-SECRET LOVER: Six-race maiden did not have any impact on the Dr. Fager or Affirmed divisions of the FSS series so far, beaten 10 lengths or more in both. Rather even running style sprinting may appreciate two turns for the first time while saving ground. Joe Bravo takes over in the saddle for Antonio Sano for the first time.

#2-BENTORNATO (pictured above): Heavy favorite romped to victory in the Dr. Fager by 7-1/2 lengths at 2-5 odds and by 2-3/4 lengths at 4-5 odds in the Affirmed. He can become the 11th horse all-time to sweep the Florida Sire Stakes series. Unblemished record through four sprint starts will be tested over a two-turn route distance for the first time. The damside pedigree does lean toward sprints being his best, but you’ll have to catch him to win and the sixteenth-pole finish line will be in play Saturday.

#3-BRAWN: Open-company stakes veteran finished fourth in both the Aventura on dirt and the Armed Forces over the Tapeta surface. Son of Neolithic faces restricted company for the first time and is one of just two horses in this race with experience around two turns, having done so twice. Note a jockey change to Leonel Reyes on Saturday.

#4-LASSO: Far back in the Dr. Fager and Affirmed at 24-1 and 91-1 odds, this rank outsider has been a victim of declining form since a debut win and a Saratoga Special fourth-place finish. Trainer Juan Alvarado removes the blinkers from his last two in hopes of a wake-up call.

#5-MATTINGLY: Runner-up to BENTORNATO in the Affirmed while making his first start on the Gulfstream dirt, this colt by sprint influence Bucchero will see how his speed translates around two turns for the first time. He’s run equally well on dirt, turf and synthetic and gets top pilot Edgard Zayas aboard in a notable change.

#6-SEMINOLE CHIEF: Romping debut winner at Finger Lakes got a reality check in the Affirmed when a well-beaten sixth at 45-1 odds. Troubled start didn’t help the cause in that one, but new rider Paco Lopez and the addition of blinkers should at least cure those gate woes. Expect Girvin colt closer to the pace Saturday.

#7-CAJUN FOOL: Three-race maiden makes his first FSS series appearance after missing the mark at Ellis Park, Horseshoe Indianapolis and Keeneland, most recently third at the latter in maiden claiming company. He was far back around two turns on turf in Indy, but joins BRAWN as the only horses in this race who have gone around two turns.

Let’s meet the contenders for the Race 10 FSS My Dear Girl:

#1-HONEY DIJON: Joe Sharp trainee shipped south for the Susan’s Girl and was a distant second behind R HARPER ROSE. Saratoga maiden breaker had previously been competitive in the Untapable Stakes on turf at Kentucky Downs and certainly bred to appreciate the two-turn attempt for the first time.

#2-FIELDS OF GREEN: Maiden claiming graduate in August has proven her mettle in the FSS series with a fourth in the Desert Vixen and third in the Susan’s Girl. Filly made the lead in both of those races and should be inside speed here for Leonel Reyes and trainer Ralph Nicks. She’ll take them as far as she can after 26-1 and 69-1 exotics surprises in her last two.

#3-UNRELENTLESS: Trainer David Fawkes adds blinkers to this third-time starter by The Big Beast. She was a flat sixth in the Susan’s Girl and will get a new pilot in Joe Bravo this Saturday. Damsire Include often has a positive influence as the distances extend.

#4-HAUNTED: Fourth-place finisher in the Susan’s Girl also chased R HARPER ROSE in their common maiden debuts. She needs to make up more than 15 lengths in those two combined efforts to turn the tables, so trainer Juan Alvarado takes the blinkers off in this maiden’s first route bid.

#5-R HARPER ROSE: Smashing winner in all three starts to date, rolling by 16 combined lengths that include a daylight score in the Susan’s Girl. Fast filly by Khozan bred on the damside for sprint speed, we’ll see how far she’ll go under Edgard Zayas for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. She should be battling FIELDS OF GREEN on the front end.

#6-PARDY PLEASER: Maiden claiming graduate joins the FSS series for the first time and gives trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. a second contender alongside favorite R HARPER ROSE. She’s never run beyond 5-1/2 furlongs and all four starts have come on the Tapeta to date. Damside pedigree suggests she’ll go longer with some success, but this level will be the question.

#7-DANCING N DIXIE: Not only is she the only two-turn experienced filly in the My Dear Girl, but she’s a stakes winner routing vs. open company in the Our Dear Peggy Stakes. The caveat: both of her wins came on Tapeta, while she was well-beaten in both local dirt starts prior to the positive surface change. Miguel Vasquez is 2-for-2 on her back for trainer Mark Casse.

#8-REINA MAR: Blinkers go on this two-race maiden who was a well-beaten fifth in the Susan’s Girl when last seen. Showed no early speed whatsoever to date, but could come out with more interest in the blinkers and drawing wide with intent to save some ground. Needs to make up a lot of ground on the re-matched players from Oct. 21.

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