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Teaks North gets Nevin's career going; Regalo Mia along in time

Teaks North was making his first start for Rick Dutrow assistant-turned-trainer Michelle Nevin (Courtney Heeney/Adam Coglianese Photography)
Michelle Nevin, best known as the longtime assistant to trainer Rick Dutrow, got her training career off to a smashing start with Teaks North's wire-to-wire upset in Saturday's $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park.

Only two days before, Dutrow had begun serving a 10-year suspension for medication violations. His horses were distributed to other conditioners, and Nevin just took out her own license to continue her association with those based at Gulfstream. The ink was barely dry when Resolute Group Stables' Teaks North was entered in the Turf, and the 8-1 shot made a memorable debut for Nevin.

A horse with plenty of back class for previous trainer Justin Sallusto, Teaks North had captured the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes and Grade 1 United Nations in 2011. After a subpar fifth in the 2012 running of the Florida Sunshine Millions Turf, he was sidelined for 11 months. Teaks North resurfaced with Dutrow in the December 22 El Prado Stakes, showing little en route to a 10th-place finish, but was ready to roll in his second start off the layoff.

"I'm overwhelmed -- it's been a tough week," Nevin said. "I'm very happy for this horse. It's been a long road back. When they get older, they usually need a race to shake the cobwebs off, and he did." 

Teaks North broke sharply for John Velazquez and set up shop on the front end, getting away with splits of :25 3/5, :52 and 1:16 3/5 on the yielding turf. Meanwhile, 1-2 favorite Doubles Partner was unhurried well off the pace. By the time Doubles Partner kicked into gear at the head of the lane, the front runner was long gone.

Still full of run down the stretch, Teaks North kept on relentlessly to spring the 2 1/2-length upset. The six-year-old gelding posted a final time of 1:52 4/5 for 1 1/8 grassy miles, and his loyal supporters reaped returns of $19.80, $6.20 and $4.60.

"We wanted to be close to the lead, and everyone began slowing down in front," Velazquez recapped. "It was perfect. I couldn't ask for a better trip. They let me go slow and I took it."

Doubles Partner cost himself valuable position right at the start, according to jockey Javier Castellano.

"We had bad luck out of the gate," Castellano said. "Usually he breaks great, although today he hesitated after we broke and wasn't as sharp. Unfortunately the pace was slow, we ended up too far back and it was too hard to catch up. Teaks North and John Velazquez went to the lead wire to wire and we lost the race out of the gate."

Doubles Partner was a clear second by 2 1/4 lengths. Shkspeare Shaliyah nabbed Bad Debt by a neck for third, with Slews Answer the same margin back in fifth. Next came Picou, Roman Tiger and Duke of Mischief.

With this sixth career stakes victory to his credit, Teaks North sports a mark of 23-8-1-2, $1,096,464. The son of Northern Afleet had won a pair of Monmouth stakes at three, the Restoration on the turf and the Big Brown on dirt -- an ironic success considering his later switch to Dutrow and Nevin -- and he ended the 2010 season with thirds in both the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap and the Cosmic Bob at Aqueduct.

Teaks North was bred by Brylynn Farm in Florida. Out of the unraced High Honors mare Teaksberry Road, he is a full brother to the stakes-winning Teak Totem, the dam of Grade 2 scorer Adios Charlie and black-type placed Streakin' Mohican. Teaks North is also a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 hero and Grade 1-placed Wooden Phone.

Regalo Mia upended the top two from last year's F&M Turf, Hooh Why and Romacaca (Courtney Heeney/Adam Coglianese Photography)
Earlier on the card, a different trainer named Michelle -- Nihei -- had taken the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf with Regalo Mia. Steven W. Ciccarone's runner, who had placed in no fewer than five stakes last year, finally broke through with a strong late rally. Given a well-timed ride by Castellano, the newly-turned four-year-old overhauled defending champion Hooh Why and edged three-quarters of a length clear.

Regalo Mia had smart form to her credit, including near-misses to the likes of Dayatthespa and Better Lucky in graded stakes in 2012. She had thrown in a rare clunker in her final outing as a sophomore, however, when a non-threatening ninth in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs in November. The betting public believed that Regalo Mia would bounce back, and bet her down to the second choice at 5-2.

The 4-5 favorite, Romacaca, bounded out to the early lead and established fractions of :25 3/5, :51 and 1:15 1/5. Hooh Why prompted the pace, while Regalo Mia was reserved farther back in the compact group. In fact, the eventual winner had dropped back to last at one point on the backstretch before creeping forward once more on the far turn.

Swinging into the stretch, Hooh Why delivered her challenge and surged past Romacaca, bringing back memories of last year's edition. The two threatened to reprise their respective one-two roles, until Regalo Mia began to lengthen stride. Their younger rival looked stronger the farther she went, completing 1 1/8 soggy miles in 1:52 1/5 and paying $7.20, $3.80 and $2.40.

"I handicapped the race," Castellano said, "and I didn't see much speed, and was afraid Hooh Why and Romacaca would control the race. I expected to be closer to the pace, but my horse was off the bridle in the beginning while getting used to the soft ground, but she loved the surface. Turning for home when I asked for more she responded very well. It was a great performance from her. This was her first time on the soft ground and she handled it wonderfully."

Hooh Why's rider, Ronald Allen Jr., was also sizing up the pace scenario.

"I knew Romacaca and Refining showed speed, so I was going to try to let them go ahead and hook up," Allen said. "When Refining backed off and didn't want to hook Romacaca, I knew Romacaca got too easy of a lead so she might be hard to catch. I saw jockey Francisco Torres was out of horse (on Romacaca) around the turn and knew I had them, all that was left was to hold off Regalo Mia, but we couldn't do it. We just ran out of gas."

Hooh Why took the runner-up spot by three-quarters of a length from Romacaca. Millennia, Callmethesqueeze and Refining rounded out the order under the wire. Speak Easy Gal was scratched in favor of the Distaff, where she finished second.

Regalo Mia's new career highlight improved her scorecard to 9-2-3-3, $237,721, compiled exclusively on turf. The Sligo Bay filly's prior victory had also come over the Gulfstream turf, in a maiden in late 2011.

Pitched straight into stakes company, Regalo Mia was beaten all of a neck when third to Dixie Strike in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs. She was edged by Dayatthespa by the same margin in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride over this course and distance, and checked in a distant third to her in the Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland.

Her closest call came in the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont, failing to catch Better Lucky by a nose. Regalo Mia flew to California for the Grade 1 American Oaks last summer, only to spike a fever and ultimately came down with pneumonia. Unraced for five months, she returned with a solid third in the October 27 Banner Gala at Belmont, before her uncharacteristic flop in the November 17 Mrs. Revere.

"There was never any question that we had a good filly since she came to us as a two-year-old," Nihei said. "Her only bad race in the Mrs. Revere at just wasn't her day. It was at night in the freezing cold, raining and the ground was slippery on top. Other than that she has run her race every time.

"We do have to allow for her (small) size in her training, but she more than makes up for it. I've always thought she would like a distance, and a three-turn race is the obvious next step."

Bred by Juvenal Diaz in Florida, Regalo Mia is out of the Red Bullet mare Shake It Up, who is in turn a half-sister to 2002 Wonder Where heroine, Hot Talent.

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