McPeek 3000 wins
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Irad Ortiz Jr. and Francesco Clemente after winning the 2024 W.L. McKnight Stakes (G3)
Pegasus World Cup (G1) day at Gulfstream Park was conducted under typical racing conditions for south Florida in late January -- cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80's, with the 1 1/8 mile main track rated fast and the turf course firm. There were 6 stakes races on the undercard, all graded.
A field of 11 older horses contested the $200,000 William L. McKnight Stakes (G3) presented by Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association at 1 1/2 miles around 3 turns of the turf course. Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) runner-up Francesco Clemente was sent off as the 2-1 favorite over 3-1 second choice Verstappen, third in the Red Smith (G2), and 5-1 third choice Stone Age, 5th in the Fort Lauderdale (G2).
Jockey Luis Saez sent 13-2 F Five to the lead first time by through fractions of 23.88, 47.99, 1:12.10, 1:36.22, and 1:59.69 while pressed by 17-2 Cellist and stalked by Verstappen. Turning for home, Francisco Clemente, 10th early under Irad Ortiz Jr., came out 8 wide to circle the field and rallied by to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths over 41-1 Starting Over in 2:22.64, just 1/100 second off the course record. It was a neck back to pacesetter F Five third.
Left: Francesco Clemente heads to the winner's circle. Winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said, "He had everything against him and he still won easy. He opened up on the end. He missed the break, tight turns, short stretch and he still got there. I moved wide early to try and get him there, (get him) right in the track. He made it look easy. He always miss[es] the break. He missed the break with me, he missed the break with [Umberto] Rispoli too, so I was ready for that. So I tried to travel with him and he was responding, every time I asked him. In the middle of the race, he was responding and he kept responding at the end. I was very impressed."
Right: Francesco Clemente in the paddock before the race. Winning trainer Chad Brown said, "He ran great. He did go wide that last turn, but he saved so much ground in the first two turns that you are able to lose some significant ground in the last turn if you have a horse that is good enough, and he is. He's a serious horse. We haven't been able to run him that much. He was an unlucky loser the last time out in California. He had a really troubled trip. That's horse racing. Particularly when you are running 1 1/2 mile races on turf, you are trip-dependent a lot of times. Thankfully, he was good enough to go past all those horses and power away. An exciting horse."
The $150,000 La Prevoyante Stakes (G3) presented by Ketel One Espresso Martini featured a field of 7 older fillies and mares also going 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Dowager (G3) and Via Borghese Stakes winner Romagna Mia was sent off as the 7-10 favorite over 2-1 second choice R Calli Kim, winner of the Long Island (G3), and 17-2 third choice Alpha Bella, third in the Tropical Park Oaks.
Jockey Luis Saez sent Alpha Bella to the lead first time by through fractions of 24.25, 49.03, 1:13.19, 1:37.47, and 2:00.55 while pressed by 25-1 Tass and stalked by R Calli Kim. Turning for home, Alpha Bella continued to lead and, after drifting in and bumping R Calli Kim at the 1/16 pole, held her off to win by 3/4 length in 2:24.25. It was another 1 1/4 length back to 28-1 Anatolian third, while favorite Romagna Mia checked in 5th beaten 6 lengths. Jose Ortiz aboard R Calli Kim claimed foul against Saez aboard Alpha Bella for interference but the stewards ruled that the contact did not affect the result.
Left: Alpha Bella returns after the race. Winning jockey Luis Saez said, "I was in my lane. It seemed like the (jockey) on the inside tried to look for the foul. I was clear. That was all. The inside (jockey) tried to look for the foul. But it's a good thing that the stewards saw what happened and everything was OK. I felt comfortable (on the lead). That's a filly that always breaks pretty well. When she is on the lead she gives a big effort."
Right: Alpha Bella in the post parade. Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said, "It looked like there was a lot going on there. We tightened it up a little bit, but it looked like we took the worst of it. We got bumped a couple times. I thought she ran a courageous race. The strategy was to go to the front and take it from there. It worked out really well. She's a filly that's always been knocking on the door. I think stretching her out is what she's been looking for."
The $150,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3) presented by Whispering Angel featured a field of 11 older horses going 1 mile around one turn of the main track. Malibu (G1) runner-up Hejazi was sent off as the 6-5 favorite over 7-2 second choice Steal Sunshine, 4th in the Harlan's Holiday (G3), and 9-2 third choice Accretive off a 10th place finish in the Cigar Mile Handicap (G2).
Hejazi and 13-1 Expressman battled for the early lead down the backstretch through opening fractions of 23.53 and 45.69 while stalked by 108-1 longest shot Great Navigator and 8-1 Tumbarumba. Into the stretch Hejazi took over the lead through 3/4 in 1:08.28 and opened up a 2 1/2 length lead through 7f in 1:23/04 before tiring. Tumbarumba held off late-running 27-1 Castle Chaos to win by a nose in 1:36.45. It was another 3/4 length back to Steal Sunshine third, and another 3/4 back to favorite Hejazi fourth.
Left: Tumbarumba heads to the winner's circle. Winning trainer Brian Lynch said, "It's been a great meet so far, and particularly winning with him. He's an Oscar Performance and he's just a special horse to me. I've always felt he's better on the outside, so the outside draw was a good draw for him. He sort of got to stalk them, and he's such a game horse when he can gets engaged in sort of a head bob. To run down Baffert's horse [Hejazi] as the chalk, that's a thrill, too. All-around, just a neat, neat horse and I'm just so excited about him."
Right: Tumbarumba in the post parade. Lynch added, "He'll be pointed toward the Pat Day Mile on [Kentucky] Derby day. He'll have another race here on Florida Derby day or Fountain of Youth day, I'm sure. He's sort of showed that he's a legit horse at the Grade 3 level so we'll try to knock out another one."
A field of 10 older fillies and mares contested the $200,000 Inside Information Stakes (G2) presented by Don Julio Tequila at 7 furlongs on the main track. Last year's winner Maryquitecontrary was sent off as the 3-2 favorite over 11-4 second choice Intrepid Daydream, second in the Sugar Swirl (G3), and 11-2 third choice Gerrymander, 5th in the Go For Wand (G3).
Jockey Oisin Murphy sent 20-1 Sassy Nature to the lead out of the chute through fractions of 22.20 and 44.82 while pressed by 7-1 Olivia Darling and stalked by 56-1 Music City Star. Into the lane Sassy Nature tired as Olivia Darling inherited the lead through 3/4 in 1:10.27. Kept to task by Irad Ortiz Jr., Olivia Darling drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over late-running 6-1 fourth choice Bluefield in 1:23.04. It was another 2 1/4 back to favorite Maryquitecontrary third.
Left: Olivia Darling in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jorge Delgado said, "The day of the Super Swirl she did run good, but she didn't give her 100 percent. Maybe she needed the race after the layoff. After that race she has been so much sharper. She has been telling me by all the good signs that she was going to run a good race. The fact that Irad rode her once and this was the second time, he knew the filly. He knew how she was going to act, how much she had to give. He knew the filly very well. Perfect trip. Perfect ride. Perfect performance. I could not be more happy."
Right: Olivia Darling returns after the race. Winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said, "She broke so well so I let (her) be happy and she just kept responding. When it was time to go, I bide my time to the quarter pole. There was nobody who moved around me and when I asked her, she was there for me. She did it pretty easy."
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