July 22, 2024

Ce Ce romps in Princess Rooney; Willy Boi claims the Smile Sprint

Ce Ce wins the 2022 Princess Rooney Stakes (Photo by Lauren King/Coglianese Photos)

A pair of graded stakes sprints with potential Breeders’ Cup implications took place on Saturday during the “Summit of Speed” program at Gulfstream Park.

The first was the $100,000 Smile Sprint S. (G3), a six-furlong steppingstone toward the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Half a dozen horses faced the starter, and the betting produced an uncommon outcome as runaway Big Drama S. winner Willy Boi and 2021 Woody Stephens S. (G1) winner Drain the Clock both started at the odds-on prices of 9-10.

Bettors ultimately established Willy Boi as the slimmest of favorites, and this conclusion proved correct as the Florida-bred four-year-old gelding posted a comfortable victory. Reserved in fifth place behind a quick opening quarter-mile in :21.74, Willy Boi advanced to challenge pace-tracking Drain the Clock through half a mile in :44.70, then edged clear down the homestretch to beat deep closer Pudding by one length.

“We broke a little slow, but the track has been playing a little for closers from off the pace and not holding speed as well, so it kind of worked in our favor,” winning jockey Chantal Sutherland told Gulfstream Park. “I was comfortable, but I kept my eye on [Drain the Clock]. I thought he ran a great race. In the lane when I came to him, I wanted to get away from him because I know he’s a pit bull and he’ll fight, and I didn’t want to fight with him today, so I wanted to stay away from him.”

Willy Boi reached the finish line in 1:09.71 while Absolute Grit, Drain the Clock, Gatsby, and pacesetting Yes I‘m a Beast completed the order of finish. Jorge Delgado trains the winner on behalf of Lea Farms.

“I’m so grateful that Lea Farms gave me the chance to train these kinds of horses,” said Delgado. “I hope I can get more of this quality of horse, because I love to win these kinds of races.”

Later in the afternoon, fillies and mares took center stage in the $300,000 Princess Rooney S. (G2), a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Keeneland. Reigning Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ce Ce was favored at 2-5 to claim top honors, and the six-year-old mare didn’t disappoint with a powerful performance.

Cutting back in distance off a third-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom H. (G1), Ce Ce was content to settle in third place early on as Make Mischief carved out fractions of :23.01 and :45.46 while pressed by Spirit Wind. But Ce Ce readily launched a rally around the turn and powered clear down the homestretch to win the seven-furlong sprint by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:22.20.

“I just don’t have enough superlatives and good things to say about her,” said winning trainer Michael McCarthy. “She’s very special.”

Spirit Wind got the better of Make Mischief for second place, followed by Corey, Glass Ceiling, and Allworthy.

A Bo Hirsch homebred, Ce Ce was ridden to victory by regular jockey Victor Espinoza. Saturday’s success marked Ce Ce’s second score in the Princess Rooney, following a 3 1/4-length triumph in the 2021 renewal.

“I told Victor to just bounce on out of there. I wasn’t sure what the filly outside of us was going to do. When she ended up catching a flyer out of there, Victor was content to just let her go and sit outside the speed,” McCarthy said. “She did what I expected her to do. Obviously, it’s never convenient when you ship all the way across the country, but it’s a racetrack that she’s fond of. The spacing of the race was great.”

Winning the Princess Rooney places Ce Ce in the hunt for a repeat Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter. McCarthy indicated Ce Ce’s agenda for the remainder of the year could be similar to her 2021 summer/fall campaign, which culminated with her defining Breeders’ Cup triumph.