Gulfstream Park shippers turned the Ellis Park Derby/Audubon Oaks double on a stakes-laden Sunday in Henderson, Kentucky.
Ellis Park Derby
Steal Sunshine racked up his third straight win in the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby, prompting trainer Bobby Dibona to suggest that the Constitution colt is ready to try a higher level.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Dibona said. “I wouldn’t be here if I was surprised. He’s just a great horse. From day one, I thought he was a special horse and he’s developing and learning the game and relaxing. He’s getting better and better.”
A homebred for Machmer Hall’s Carrie Brogden, who campaigns him in partnership with Little Red Feather Racing, Steal Sunshine had mixed it up in good company at his Gulfstream base this spring. He was a clear second in a Mar. 2 allowance to Skippylongstocking, the eventual third in the Belmont (G1) and hero of the West Virginia Derby (G3).
Steal Sunshine was next a closing sixth in the Florida Derby (G1), but he needed class relief to get momentum. After capturing a starter/optional claimer on May 26, Steal Sunshine rolled last-to-first in the July 9 Carry Back S., and unleashed a similar finish here with regular rider Leonel Reyes.
The 5.99-1 chance bided his time at the rear as the 57-1 Rome sped through fractions of :22.94 and :46.01. The 1.70-1 favorite, Top of the Charts, was burned off by the pace, while the stalking Chasing Time advanced to challenge, and Strava loomed into the picture widest of all. But Steal Sunshine had plenty of room to punch through on the inside, drawing 3 1/4 lengths clear in 1:38.19 for the mile and paying $13.98.
Rome held on in a surprising second, a neck up on Strava. Chasing Time tired to fourth, and Top of the Charts was a penultimate eighth.
Out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Warm Sunshine, Steal Sunshine sports a mark of 9-4-1-1, $233,910.
Monarch Stables’ Last Leaf likewise made it a hat trick in the $100,000 Audubon Oaks, after scores in Gulfstream’s Game Face S. and Azalea S. Trained by Ron Spatz and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the Not This Time filly made a wide, sweeping move to prevail by 1 3/4 lengths. The 3.37-1 shot clocked seven furlongs in 1:24.69 and paid $8.74.
The 20-1 Take a Stand rallied from far back herself to take second. Gunning, the 1.31-1 favorite who was unexpectedly vying for the early lead, weakened to third, and Optionality rounded out the superfecta.
Last Leaf’s fifth stakes victory improved her record to 15-7-1-2, $332,647. Also successful in the Hollywood Beach S. and Melody of Colors S. on the Gulfstream turf, she was third in the Forward Gal (G3).
Groupie Doll S.
The $119,900 Groupie Doll S. was marred by the tragic breakdown of 1.11-1 favorite Super Quick. The Marylou Whitney Stables homebred set a contested pace before being overtaken, then went wrong in the final strides while finishing fourth. Jockey Joe Talamo dismounted quickly, but her injury sadly proved catastrophic, and she was euthanized.
Joel Politi’s Li’l Tootsie, who had settled in midpack early with Edgar Morales, went on to spring a 13.45-1 upset ($28.90). The Tom Amoss filly was previously more of a sprinter, with placings in last season’s Prioress (G2) and the May 30 Winning Colors (G3). But she reinvented herself as a miler in the July 3 Anchorage S. at Churchill Downs, and made it two in a row on Sunday. The daughter of Tapiture scored by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:37.42, with Jilted Bride second and Recoded third. Li’l Tootisie has bankrolled $532,874 from her 17-7-1-3 line.
Ellis Park Juvenile
Amoss and Morales earlier sustained a tough beat in the $124,500 Ellis Park Juvenile, where their 6-5 favorite Curly Jack lost on the head-bob to the 6.88-1 Top Recruit ($15.76) and Gerardo Corrales. The ultra-game winner had argued the pace and appeared about to be inhaled by Curly Jack at the top of the stretch, but dug in to win the photo in 1:24.40 for seven furlongs. Aside from the fast time, they established superiority over the rest by pulling 14 3/4 lengths clear of third-placer Roman Giant.
Co-owned by Paradise Farms Corp., David Staudacher, Three Diamonds Farm, and trainer Mike Maker, Top Recruit was moving forward from a distant third to Tyler’s Tribe in the Prairie Gold Juvenile. The Midshipman colt, who broke his maiden first out at Churchill, is now 2-for-3 with $155,840 in earnings.
Ellis Park Debutante
The final time of the companion $122,500 Ellis Park Debutante was considerably slower, elapsing in 1:25.89, but Stone Bridge Farm’s unbeaten Justa Warrior looks like the type to go on from here. Yet another stakes-winning filly from the first crop of Triple Crown champ Justify, Justa Warrior cruised to an outside stalk-and-pounce decision as the 2.51-1 favorite ($7.02).
The John Ortiz pupil was showing a new dimension, having forced the pace in her Ellis debut last out. With Reylu Gutierrez back aboard, the handsome bay struck the front almost too easily in the stretch, and Pachuca closed with good energy to reduce the margin to one length. Tap’er Light got up for third, and pacesetter Mor Lively wound up fourth. The 2-for-2 Justa Warrior, a daughter of 2010 Frizette (G1) heroine A Z Warrior (by Bernardini), has deposited $108,660 in her account.