It's a Thoroughbred birthday party of sorts Sunday as newly turned 3-year-olds match up in the kickoff leg to the Florida Derby series. Gulfstream Park's Mucho Macho Man Stakes carries a $150,000 purse, 1-turn dirt mile configuration and full field of 12 entries. The dozen provide a nice mix of Florida, New York and Kentucky runners.
While each seeks a first career stakes win, existing stakes-placed performers in the lineup include DREAMING OF KONA, GENERAL JIM, FLIPARINO and MR. BOB. There's no decided class edge among these in the past performances, and a quartet of last-out winners stepping up in class are just as likely to factor as those with stakes experience.
Of the 12 runners, they've appeared in 39 collective races and only 4 times - by 4 different runners no less - has one of them made the early lead. This is not a race with the pace you'd expect for a 1-turn mile of rising players. DREAMING OF KONA and MR BOB are most likely to make the front in this handicapper's eyes, and that tactical edge could cash.
Here are my horse-by-horse notes:
LEGACY ISLE: Though 2-for-2, not visually impressive and very inefficient action could catch up to him with better competition. He's drawn the rail now in all 3 starts and handles that assignment.
IL MIRACOLO: Disastrous road trip for Remsen, but Sano rarely travels unless he has a good one. Nov. 12 win at Gulfstream was hard-ridden out and just 26-2/5 final quarter. Respect the Gun Runners, and this barn won the Mucho Macho Man last year with Simplification (pictured above).
BABY BILLY: Maiden was twice-beaten favorite, but picks up Rosario and should be a good style fit for trainer not afraid to throw one to the wolves.
DREAMING OF KONA: Potential pacemaker has bullet workout since Inaugural Stakes third at Tampa when chasing a Keeneland stakes winner named Super Chow, who wired that day at 3-5. Don't worry about trouble comment at start, wasn't a factor and was his fault, but note he galloped out best of all.
GENERAL JIM: Shug McGaughey trainee goes turf-to-dirt, but pedigree certainly to handle it by Into Mischief and being a grandson of Havre de Grace, a Horse of the Year and main track superstar. Third in only dirt try, at Saratoga, and didn't show any disdain for it that day behind a razor-sharp winner. Luis Saez opts to ride here over MR BOB.
WINE EMPIRE: Claimed for $35K and $75K in his last 2 starts, difficult read on synthetic form. Would be big surprise.
FLIPARINO: Mama Swap Fliparoo was G1 Test winner and won '07 Sabin over a mile at Gulfstream in a blowout fashion. Flat late going 2 turns last time in the Street Sense at Churchill, but should be much more suited around 1 turn based on pedigree and form.
MR BOB: Expect hustling early speed from Irad Ortiz, Jr, a notable replacement for Luis Saez. Broke very sharp from inside in Churchill stakes last out, then was taken a hold of and relaxed nicely. Finished up well and tried hard. Working well since. Big chance.
LIVE IS LIFE: 1-for-7 with propensity to hang late and not finish. Couldn't sustain run against Legacy Isle and Eyes on the King, and those aren't my top selections in this spot.
LORD MILES: Saffie Joseph Jr. won this race in 2020 with Chance It and has a big chance for another trophy. This one looked to be going nowhere a half-mile into his sprint debut, but the Curlin colt just rocket-launched in upper stretch and won as easily as you could imagine while only used for maybe 3/16ths of a mile. Strong work since for a colt out of a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Caledonia Road.
EYES ON THE KING: Rock-solid visually on the Tapeta winning around 2 turns last time. If able to get near the front, will provide his best chance. Win-early damside pedigree, so no surprise to see this one sharp in August debut ... the trick will be to continue development.
LAVER: Bernardini-Centre Court blueblood takes a backseat to none of these in pedigree. Mama was a 5-time turf winner in Grade 1/Grade 2 stakes, and his half-sister Navratilova won the Grade 3 Valley View on grass at Keeneland. As for dirt, Laver's win and second in Kentucky last fall check the box. Maiden breaker last time significant in that third-place runner came back to win Dec. 16 MSW at Gulfstream and fourth-place finisher (named Banishing) romped Monday in a Fair Grounds MSW and looks to have a future. Knock is that this one tends to hang a bit late.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
No mortal locks in this department, but DREAMING OF KONA intrigues with speed in a race without much else of it.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
FLIPARINO has been 15-1 and 8-1 in two starts and should be better around one turn Sunday.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$60 win DREAMING OF KONA. $5 exacta part-wheel DREAMING OF KONA and MR BOB with DREAMING OF KONA, MR BOB, LORD MILES, GENERAL JIM, FLIPARINO ($40).