Trainer Joe Petalino says Grade 1 winner J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) had been doing things too easily in his training leading up to next Saturday's $300,000 Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park, so the coach was more demanding Sunday morning of Gem Stables' three-year-old ridgling.
With a workmate named Fr. Denis (Gold Legend) giving him a target, J P's Gusto drilled a bullet five furlongs in :59 2/5 over the fast track on a mild and clear morning. Jockey Bryan McNeil was aboard for the move, but Ramon Dominguez will be back in the saddle Saturday after riding the former California-based runner to a troubled second-place finish in the Southwest S. (G3) on February 21. (Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography)
"We were looking for something a little sharper," said Petalino after the bay zipped along the rail, ticking fractions of :24, :47 3/5 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. "He had been just plodding along by himself with what he had been doing and had been doing it easily. We wanted to put something in front of him to make him a little sharper. That's what he needs because the water is getting a little deeper now."
"He saw that target and it made him more aggressive with each step," McNeil added. "Down the lane (J P's Gusto) just cruised right by (Fr. Denis)."
Petalino says the pressure now will rise on both the horse and his team heading into this weekend's 1 1/16-mile contest. J P's Gusto ridgling arrived in his barn in early February when owner Dr. John Waken and his advisors decided to point for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16, taking him away from trainer David Hofmans in Southern California.
With Hofmans, J P's Gusto won four-of-five races to start his career, including the Del Mar Futurity (G1), Best Pal S. (G2) and Hollywood Juvenile Championship (G3). Since his Del Mar Futurity victory, though, he has finished second in three of his four starts, all of them two-turn route races.
Because of the losing streak, questions linger about J P's Gusto's chances as the distances grow longer on the Derby Trail. Petalino says the team isn't getting ahead of themselves.
"All the national handicappers and media are calling and comparing his chances to get a mile-and-a-quarter," he said. "Last I checked, the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby aren't a mile-and-a-quarter. The owners don't appear to have 'Derby fever' too much. They sent him here because they liked the distance progression and they are out to enjoy each race as it comes."
Clint Gilchrist's DREAMINOFTHEWIN (Successful Appeal), second in the January 17 Smarty Jones S., showed he's ready to get back into stakes action this Saturday in the Rebel by posting a five-furlong breeze in a 1:00 4/5 Sunday morning. In his most recent race, he opted to bypass the one-mile Southwest S. (G3) and instead finished second to fellow Rebel contender Alternation (Distorted Humor) in a 1 1/6-mile allowance race earlier on that same February 21 card.
The dark bay colt has been fighting a quarter crack all winter and wore a bar shoe in his last two races, but trainer C.R. Trout is confident that his charge is capable of continuing along the path to the Arkansas Derby.
"He went good," Trout said. "The time was fine and the foot is holding up.
"You've heard of a wing and a prayer? That's kind of how we are flying with that foot right now. But he's training awfully good and it's exciting. We know we are swimming up hill, but I think he will make a good account of himself."
Oaklawn's leading rider Cliff Berry was aboard for the workout and has been given the call for the Rebel.
TK Stable's stakes-winning GLINT (Sharp Humor), third in the six-furlong Mountain Valley S. on March 5, did enough in that effort to earn the opportunity to stretch out in the Rebel.
On Sunday, the bay colt warmed up for that race by working an easy half mile in :51 3/5 in company with the five-year-old mare Kimber Lily (Sunday Break [Jpn]), who was caught in the same time. Jockey Gabriel Saez, who has the mount in the Rebel, was aboard for the workout.
"It was just pretty simple and straightforward," said Hetta Stelle, assistant to trainer Kellyn Gorder. "It wasn't a bullet workout or anything, but that's not what he needs. We are happy with him at this point."