From a Gulfstream Park release
Virginia-connected horses will be front and center in Saturday’s $250,000, Grade 2 Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Woodslane Farm’s Grade 1-winning homebred Sadler’s Joy — a Kentucky-bred who was raised at Woodslane, which is in Fauquier County — can put himself and his connections in elite company when he returns to defend his title in Saturday’s $250,000 Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
But to get there, he’ll have to overcome eight rivals, including Virginia-bred One Go All Go.
The 57th running of the 1 ½-mile Pan American for 4-year-olds and up on the grass is one of seven stakes, five graded, worth $2.3 million in purses on the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) Day program.
Also on Saturday’s card are the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) for 3-year-old fillies, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile (G2) on dirt and $250,000 Honey Fox (G2) on grass for older horses, and the $125,000 Cutler Bay and $125,000 Sanibel Island for 3-year-olds on turf. First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
First run in 1962, the Pan American has been won in back-to-back years by just two horses – Fraise (1993, 1994) and Quest Star (2003, 2004). They were trained, respectively, by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and Elliott Walden, who join Arnold Winick (1963, 1964) as the only successive winning trainers.
Already a two-time winner of the Pan American, including Twilight Eclipse’s world-record setting 2013 victory in 2:22.63, trainer Tom Albertrani brings Sadler’s Joy back four weeks after the son of Kitten’s Joy opened his 5-year-old campaign with a dramatic three-quarter-length triumph over pacesetting long shot One Go All Go in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida (G2).
“I’ve been fortunate to win it a couple times already, but a third time would be nice. We’ve still got the track record-holder in there but it would be great to come back and win it again,” Albertrani said. “He came out of the last race in great shape and has been training well since so we’ll try again. He’s just doing so well.”
The Mac Diarmida was the first race for Sadler’s Joy since running fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar. He finished in the top three six times from eight starts and earned more than $1 million in 2017, including a half-length triumph in the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga.
“He’s run well fresh before, even last year when we gave him a little break, so I wasn’t really concerned about that part. I just think he looks a lot stronger this year to me,” Albertrani said. “Hopefully he’s going to have a great year ahead of him. As far as training goes, he’s doing really well and I’m very happy with how he’s coming back out of the last one and going into the Pan American. It looks like he handles the turf course fine so we’ll try him one more time before we head north.”
Julien Leparoux, a Pan American winner in 2012 as well as last year, will ride Sadler’s Joy from Post 8 of nine at co-topweight of 123 pounds.
Rodney Paden’s One Go All Go once again looms the pacesetter in the Pan American, which will be his sixth start of the Championship Meet. The 6-year-old son of Fairbanks ran second by a head in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Jan. 13 and fourth by 1 ¾ lengths in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) Feb. 10 prior to the Mac Diarmida. One Go All Go — then trained by Pavel Matejka for Preston Stables and Prestonwood Racing — scored the top victory of his career in the 2015 edition of the Commonwealth Derby at Laurel Park.
“He sure tries hard, and that other horse [Sadler’s Joy] is just a great horse. He came and caught him, but the rest of them he drew away from them and they were Grade 3 winners and Grade 1 winners, so he fits with them,” trainer Charles ‘Scooter’ Dickey said. “He’ll go ahead and run. That horse will have to catch him again, I suppose. I hope he doesn’t.”
La Providencia’s multiple Group 1-winning Argentinian homebred Hi Happy is still seeking his first North American victory since arriving in southern California in late 2016. He was third by a length in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf, his first start since finishing third, beaten a neck, in the 1 ½-mile Tokyo City (G3) on dirt at Santa Anita in April 2017.
“I thought he ran super last time, he just ran out of ground a little bit. A mile and an eighth is a little short so think he’ll appreciate the added distance. He’s doing very well,” trainer Todd Pletcher. “I thought he performed well off the layoff and certainly acts like a quality horse. I think based on his form previously he’s proven that he’s a horse that does well at a mile and a quarter and beyond, so we felt like this was a good spot for him.”
Mott, with a record six Pan American victories, is the only trainer to win the race more than twice. He will send out Joseph V. Shields Jr.’s 4-year-old gelding Classic Covey for his stakes debut having won two of six career starts. He is 0-for-2 at Gulfstream this winter, finishing third in an optional claiming allowance going 1 1/16 miles Jan. 15 and fourth in a similar spot run over 1 1/8 miles Feb. 11.
“He’s doing great. He’s run well down here. We’ve been wanting to stretch him out a little bit and see if he can go a little further and the Pan Am would give us that opportunity,” Mott said. “He’s a hard-knocking horse and he’s been right there every time, [it] just looks like he comes late. We need to found out sooner or later whether a race like the Pan Am or a distance like a mile and a half would suit him.”
Bigger Picture, coming off his second straight victory in the 1 ½-mile John B. Connally (G3) Jan. 28 at Sam Houston; Bullards Alley, 42-1 upset winner of the Canadian International (G1) last fall at Woodbine, also at 1 ½ miles; 2015 Gulfstream Park West Juvenile Turf Stakes winner Little Nick V.; Markitoff, fifth by 1 ¾ lengths in the Mac Diarmida; and 2017 Ontario Derby (G3) winner Tiz a Slam complete the field.