The lucrative and prolific series for three-year-olds at Oaklawn Park has lured the connections of Grade 1 winner J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the ridgling will make his 2011 debut in the $250,000 Southwest S. (G3) at one mile on February 21.
J P's Gusto won four straight races last summer including the Del Mar Futurity (G1) in California while based with trainer David Hofmans. He closed out last season with three straight losses, including a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and a runner-up performance in the CashCall Futurity (G1) at Hollywood Park.
Money and distance progression are the main reasons Dr. John Waken, who races J P's Gusto under his Gem Inc. stable name, is moving the horse to trainer Joe Petalino at Oaklawn.
"When we looked at the way the distances set up, we saw that it would be perfect for him," said Steve Bejar, Dr.Waken's racing manager. "We haven't won past seven-eighths yet and we didn't want to cut back to a sprint in California. The Southwest being at a flat mile is a great way to start him off and purse-wise, in this economy, Dr. Waken naturally wanted to run for the $250,000 whereas the race in California (San Vicente S. [G2]) was only $150,000."
Bejar said paperwork was being finalized and that he expected J P's Gusto to arrive by plane by midweek. They want to get J P's Gusto a chance to get acclimated and train over the track well ahead of the Southwest as well as letting Petalino get a feel for the horse. Waken and Bejar said a plug from a third partner, former trainer John O'Hara, cemented the decision to tab Petalino.
"John is a good friend of Joe's and the two of them worked together with Jack Van Berg," Bejar said. "John has known Joe for many, many years and a few years back we sent a filly to Joe. He managed to get the filly to win and we were really happy with what he did and he's a well-respected horseman."
Bejar made it clear the entire Oaklawn series -- the Southwest, the $300,000 Rebel S. (G2) on March 19 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16 -- is on the agenda for J P's Gusto.
"(Oaklawn) has done a great job setting up the program," he said. "Going from a mile, to 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles is a great progression. We plan to see if he's good enough to run in all three and we hope he does well."
Early in J P's Gusto's career, the connections were shopping the horse around, but his small size made it difficult to close any deals. While the goal remains to maximize the horse's value (with the Oaklawn purses contributing to that plan), Bejar says the horse's maturity and development have Dr. Waken, 80, rejecting most offers now.
"He has grown a lot since last fall," Bejar said. "He's got a great hind end, and a great shoulder and, we think, a big heart. He's not a small horse anymore. And Dr. Waken is excited to have him and he's as one of the most avid fans of racing and of good horses as you're ever going to meet. He loves the action, the game and he's obviously not afraid to send horses where he thinks they can be effective."