After two less than successful trips in the three-year-old series at Oaklawn Park, J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) will now team with the meet's leading jockey, Cliff Berry, in the final leg -- the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16.
The two got reacquainted Thursday morning with a bullet five-furlong breeze in :58 3/5 over the fast track for trainer Joe Petalino. J P's Gusto galloped out in 1:12 2/5, which was the fastest six-furlong time of the morning as well. Berry had also worked him prior to the Rebel S. (G2), but the mount was given to Ramon Dominguez for that race.
"That's what I was looking for," Petalino said. "I was hoping the horse would be closer to the front in his last race. Hopefully this time we can get that trip."
Petalino was referring to the ridgling's seventh-place finish in the Rebel on March 19 when Dominguez opted to rate J P's Gusto off the pace set by free-wheeling front runner and eventual winner The Factor (War Front).
"He came in here and scared everybody saying 'don't go with me,'" Petalino said, calling out The Factor's trainer, Bob Baffert, whose record-setting colt was making his first attempt around two turns after some fast sprint performances. "I was actually hoping to run with him. As fast as the track was playing that day, I was looking forward to it."
Signs continue to point to a rematch in the headline event of the season, as The Factor remains likely to return for the Arkansas Derby, although Baffert has yet to commit his star to the 1 1/8-mile contest.
Also expected to appear in the Arkansas Derby is transplanted California colt SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex), who returned to the worktab Thursday morning for the first time following his sixth-place effort in the Rebel.
The dual Grade 2 runner-up sped five-eighths under jockey Luis Quinonez, breaking off for his workout seconds before J P's Gusto set out on a similar five-furlong move. Sway Away charged to the wire in :59 3/5 and didn't appear to let up in the gallop out, although clockers did not get an official time for the final furlong.
"It was just a maintenance work, but Luis said he didn't have to put any pressure on the horse," trainer Jeff Bonde said by phone from Santa Anita Park. "Luis said he just sort of let the horse do it on his own and my guy said the gallop out was like 12 and 2."
Luck was not on the side of Sway Away in the Rebel. The three-year-old bay rushed the starting gate and broke a tooth before finding some trip trouble in the first turn. The worm may have turned for Bonde, though, last Saturday as the trainer sent out Twice the Appeal (Successful Appeal) to a 25-1 upset of the Sunland Derby (G3), giving him another horse on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail.
"That was a nice performance," Bonde said.