Gem Stables' Grade 1 hero J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) posted a good-looking breeze on a windy Saturday morning at Oaklawn Park as he prepares for the $300,000 Rebel S. (G2) on March 19.
Under Oaklawn's leading jockey Cliff Berry, the three-year-old logged six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 over a track that was drying quickly from overnight rains. It was his first breeze since making his seasonal bow a troubled second in the $250,000 Southwest S. (G3) on February. 21.
"That's a good work for him when he's working by himself," trainer Joe Petalino said immediately after the breeze. "He's got an even-running style and a big stride. He's going good right now."
Clockers caught the winner of last year's Del Mar Futurity (G1) through an opening quarter in :25 and a half-mile in :49 1/5. Their watches indicated a final quarter in :24 2/5. The ridgling broke off at the six-furlong pole and had a considerable tail wind down the backstretch. He zipped around the turn and changed leads smoothly once turned back into the wind in the stretch. Berry was surprised by how quickly his mount eased up during the gallop out, but Petalino was reassuring. (Photo Courtesy of Benoit Photos)
"He's getting pretty smart," Petalino told Berry when meeting up at the barn. "He was by himself and he knew he was done once he got past the wire. I think he wants and is going to need something to shoot at when he's out there to keep him going."
"I liked how he got a little faster in every quarter," said Berry, who solidified his lead in the standings with a riding triple Friday. "You always enjoy getting on horses like this. He started off kind of medium, but then picked it up as we went along."
J P's Gusto was ridden by Ramon Dominguez for the first time in the Southwest, but that rider has also been aboard or is scheduled to ride three other hopefuls on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail in the coming weeks. Petalino expects to hear some time this weekend if Dominguez will be back in Hot Springs in two weeks. Meanwhile, Petalino was happy with today's work and is drawing up plans for the next major event before the Rebel.
"This was about as good as what he did in his last breeze before the race," he said. "We'll look for a sharper five-eighths next time before we run, and I went today to give myself a day or so to play with in case of bad weather."
The Rebel field is shaping up to be a contentious affair, made more so by the addition of SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex) to the expected line up on Saturday. Trainer Jeff Bonde is sending three of his stable stars to Oaklawn Park for stakes attempts, including recent San Vicente S. (G2) runner-up Sway Away.
Owned by Batman Stable and partners, the three-year-old was closing fast on highly ranked The Factor (War Front) in the seven-furlong San Vicente. The Rebel will be the first chance for the bay to race around two turns. Garrett Gomez, who piloted champion Lookin at Lucky to a victory in the Rebel last year, is expected to be back aboard.
Bonde says the horse's sire and running style make Oaklawn the obvious choice for the colt's next prep. Afleet Alex used Oaklawn as his stepping stone to classic glory, capturing the Mountain Valley S., running sixth in the Rebel and then taking the Arkansas Derby (G2) prior to a third in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He would go on to record easy wins in the Preakness S. (G1) and Belmont S. (G1).
"He has a pedigree that says he's going to run all day," Bonde said Saturday morning. "With the way he trains I don't see any problems for him stretching out at all."
The 56-year-old trainer is no stranger to Oaklawn Park, having sent Sierra Sunset to finish second in the Southwest S. (G3) and win the Rebel three years ago, but a hairline fracture discovered shortly after dashed any Derby dreams.
Sway Away, who could make up for that lost opportunity, worked Friday morning at Santa Anita Park, going a handy five furlongs in 1:02 4/5 under Gomez.
"Garrett came off of him very happy with the way he worked," Bonde said.
Bonde is also expected to ship in SLEW THE MAN (Slewdledo) for the $125,000 Razorback H. (G3) on March 12 and champion sprinter SMILING TIGER (Hold That Tiger) slated for the $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) on April 14 during the Racing Festival of the South.
Slew the Man and Sway Away are expected on a flight to Hot Springs Tuesday. Bonde was not sure if Smiling Tiger would continue to train in California and ship closer to his race.
Slew the Man is in search of the biggest win of his career, but is used to traveling in search of challenge. The four-year-old has been all over the Golden State and earned his most prestigious victory in the Chinook Pass S. at Emerald Downs outside Seattle against his fellow Washington-breds last September.
"He's a good honest horse, and we had noticed there hadn't been very big fields for the first couple older-horse races there," Bonde explained. "I know more will be shipping in now, but we figured we'd take a chance."
Smiling Tiger gave Bonde his first career Grade 1 victories last year when he took the Bing Crosby at Del Mar and the Ancient Title during Oak Tree's meet at Hollywood Park. The horse went on to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) behind Big Drama (Montbrook).