February 27, 2024

Destin, Curlin’s Approval head Gulfstream dirt stakes

Destin winning the Marathon (G2) going away under John Velazquez (c) Bob Newell/Horsephotos.com

Three of the five Grade 3 stakes at Gulfstream Park Saturday will be contested on the main track and all are worth $100,000. Let’s preview the action.

The 1 1/16-mile Harlan’s Holiday features nine older horses and Destin figures to appreciate the class relief following a sixth in the Clark H. (G1) in late November. A convincing winner of the Marathon (G2) on the Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard two back, the 4-year-old gray colt can eclipse the $1-million earnings mark by annexing his fourth career graded stakes. John Velazquez rides the Todd Pletcher pupil and Destin is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite.

His main rivals include Mr. Jordan, an 11-length winner of the November 11 Millions Classic Preview; Fear the Cowboy, who posted an impressive three-length tally in March’s Skip Away (G3) in his last appearance at Gulfstream; and 13-time stakes victor and millionaire Page McKenney.

Curlin’s Approval found the surf too high when recording an unplaced finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last out, but the 4-year-old filly will be back in Gulfstream’s friendly confines for the one-mile Rampart. A runaway winner of the Barely Even and Princess Rooney (G2) in her last two local outings, the Happy Alter trainee also showed her versatility when capturing the 1 1/16-mile Royal Delta (G2) by six lengths earlier this season. She’s the one to beat at 8-5 on the morning line with Luis Saez.

Nonna Mela looms as a rebound candidate following a fifth in the Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland. Runner-up in the Prioress (G2) two back, the Grade 2-winning filly has raced sparingly at age 3 but still has some upside for Pletcher, netting a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating for a convincing allowance win in August. Javier Castellano will be up on the 5-2 second choice.

Multiple Grade 2 winner Lewis Bay returns off a 12 ½-monyth layoff for Chad Brown, making her first start since a neck second in the 2016 Comely (G2). The Bernardini filly possesses a 10-4-4-1 career mark and keeps Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle.

With eight mostly unproven rivals, Dearest is poised to leave the starting gate at odds-on as she makes a title defense in the 6-furlong Sugar Swirl. The 4-year-old filly notched her third stakes tally at Gulfstream when rolling to a one-length on the front end last year and the early 6-5 choice promises to show high speed from her innermost draw here. Edgard Zayas has the call for Gilberto Zerpa.

Pretty Perfection, who exits allowance wins at Churchill Downs and Parx, and Grade 2-placed True Romance are among the challengers.