The jockey who drew the most crowd interest at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s rider Victor Espinoza, didn’t win. Nor did the day’s heaviest favorite, defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Work All Week.
The day’s biggest jockey winner, Javier Castellano, came home with a hat trick of wins, the most important on Merry Meadow in the six-furlong $250,000 Princess Rooney Stakes in 1:09.29.
The 1 3/4-length win over Flutterby qualified the horse for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
“It feels excellent to win three straight, and I love Gulfstream Park,” said Castellano, who also won the $75,000 Miesque’s Approval Stakes and the $150,000 Carry Back Stakes.
In the other six-furlong Breeders’ Cup qualifier, the $250,000 Smile Sprint Stakes, Favorite Tale simply jumped out, got on top, then found about two or three high gears in the stretch to dust Work All Week by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:08.85.
The win gave Favorite Tale a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, won last year by Work All Week.
“I sent him all the way until I got the lead, and he’s a horse that’s once it gets a lead, he’ll keep going,” Favorite Tale jockey Edgard Zayas said.
Favorite Tale started from the No. 1 post, something that’s happened so often recently, trainer Guadalupe Preciado joked, “Maybe he’s married to it.”
Being in the No. 1 post put him on the other side of the minor dustup at the gate. The No. 6 horse, Falling Sky, broke through the gate before the start. Falling Sky got reloaded, and the race began without further incident. But that’s when, according to Work All Week jockey Florent Geroux via owner Richard Papiese, Work All Week smashed his face.
“He’s bleeding. No excuses, but it’s not a good thing,” Papiese said.
“We had a good trip, nice trip,” Geroux said. “I always seemed to be asking him, all the way around. Maybe he didn’t like the track. When the horse inside me broke through the gate, [Work All Week] tried to follow him. Sometimes, it plays with their heads.”
Favorite Tale paid $17.00, $6.60 and $4.60. Merry Meadow paid $4.80, $3.00 and $2.80.
Preciado said Favorite Tale owners PJG Stable wanted to get him in the Breeders’ Cup last year, but “he wasn’t eligible, and it coasts a lot of money. I told them, let’s wait a year because, hopefully, he could win a race and get in. So, this was perfect.”
Preciado expects to run some easy races to keep the horse in shape before the Breeders’ Cup. Merry Meadow trainer Mark Hennig sounded torn about whether or not to do the Breeders’ Filly & Mare Sprint, which is over seven furlongs.
She has won five of her past seven races now at six furlongs and finished sixth in her most recent seven-furlong race, the Inside Information in which Hennig said, Merry Meadow “got caught up in the battle early.”
“We’ve got to discuss whether the [seven furlongs] is optimal for her,” Hennig said. “Being that she gets to run there … you might take a shot. It’s going to be towards the end of her career. You don’t have to run her much in-between. She’s been good to us; we’ve just got to keep her in one piece.”
Coming in third in the Princess Rooney on Kiss to Remember gave Espinoza his only finish in the money of the day out of six races, his first Gulfstream action since the 1999 Breeders’ Cup.
Espinoza spent 45 minutes signing autographed posters for a line of fans that stretched back to the parking lot. That was after autographing several posters in the jockey’s room. He told reporters he was planning to write a book about his life.