Focus Group made a winning return to the races Saturday with a photo-finish score over Melmich in the $250,000 Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The 19-10 choice in a field of nine, Focus Group rated in mid-pack behind a slow pace but wore down his foes with an inside rally in the stretch to win the 1 1/2-mile turf affair in a time of 2:30.03 on firm ground.
Owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, the Chad Brown trainee was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. and paid $5.80. Melmich finished one length ahead of pacesetter Village King.
This was the first graded win for Focus Group, a five-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy who captured the restricted $100,000 John’s Call at Saratoga over 1 5/8 miles last summer before finishing off his season with a third in the Canadian International (G1) at Woodbine.
“I’m really proud of this horse. He got a great trip on the inside. He saved all the ground,” Brown said. “I thought he was a couple works short. I was trying to get a race into the horse with the (May 11) Man o’ War (G1) in mind up in New York. It worked out. I thought he’d be a little short to win. But he got a great trip. The trip he got from Irad was the difference.”
Prince Lucky met expectations in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), scoring by 4 3/4 lengths as the 1-5 favorite under John Velazquez. Owned by Daniel McConnell and trained by Todd Pletcher, Prince Lucky covered one mile in 1:35.21 and paid $2.40. Tale of Silence was second best by five lengths over Guy Caballero.
“In these kinds of races you always worry because you feel like you have the best horse and you just want everything to go smoothly,” Pletcher said. “He broke alertly and Johnny was a little concerned because there was some pace in here and he didn’t want to get in a duel so he kind of just bided his time and then secured his spot on the rail. It looked like he had plenty of horse from there.”
This was the fourth career stakes win and third straight for Prince Lucky, who was sidelined the remainder of the 2018 season after taking the $150,000 Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard last June. He returned on February 23 and won the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream by six lengths over the same one-mile trip, but was a 7-1 shot that day. The son of Corinthian has now won six of nine starts for earnings of $475,970.
“I think he’s a very good miler, but I do think he will stretch out, as well. It was a matter of timing when he was ready for the last one and after he did so well in that race, this made perfect sense five weeks later. We’ll see what we’re going to do next. It might be a mile race for the next one but down the road we’ll try to stretch him out a little further.”
Valedictorian dug in gamely through the stretch to turn back a bid from 11-10 favorite Proctors Ledge and won the $100,000 Sand Springs for older fillies and mares by a head.
Under Tyler Gaffalione, Valedictorian paid $7.40 as the second choice after completing one mile on the turf in 1:34.92.
Owned by Epic Racing and trained by Kelly Breen, the five-year-old daughter of Temple City had won the Suwannee River (G3) and placed in the Honey Fox (G3), Marshua’s River (G3), and Claiming Crown Tiara earlier in the meet.
Seismic Wave dove inside a trio of rivals in deep stretch to take the $125,000 Cutler Bay by a neck over Forever Mo. It was a half-length back to Art G Is Back, who edged 11-10 favorite Marquee Prince for third.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Tapit returned $6.40 after Irad Ortiz Jr. guided the Bill Mott trainee to victory in a time of 1:34.49 for one mile on the turf. After two photo-finish losses to begin his career, Seismic Wave broke his maiden by a half-length on February 16. A two-time winner in four starts, he’s now earned $124,750.
Ortiz was also aboard Trenchtown Cat, who clung to the lead by a neck over Vow to Recover at the wire of the $125,000 Sanibel Island for three-year-old fillies. Owned by Dennis Smith, Span Investments, and George DeBenedicty, Trenchtown Cat paid $12.20 after completing one mile on the turf in 1:36.11. Belle Laura, the 7-5 favorite, finished last of six, while morning line favorite A Bit Special was scratched.
Trained by Rohan Crichton, Trenchtown Cat entered the Sanibel Island off a February 17 maiden win in her second career start. The daughter of Discreet Cat has now earned $111,125.