By Jim Freer
Thursday, May 22 — Little Michelle was last weekend’s star at Gulfstream Park, surging in the final 50 yards to beat Fascinate by a nose in Saturday’s $60,000 Gracie Handicap.
The victory at five furlongs on turf was the first in a stakes for Little Michelle and her second win in a row on the Gulfstream turf. She is a 4-year-old filly, trained by Carlo Vaccarezza and owned by his wife Priscilla.
Tyler Gaffalione rode Little Michelle, who won in a fast time of :55.55 seconds on a course listed as firm.
Off that effort, Carlo Vaccarezza said on Tuesday that he is considering Little Michelle for the $250,000 Princess Rooney (Grade 2) on the revived Summit of Speed card at Gulfstream on Sunday July 5.
Vaccarezza said he might also enter Little Alexis and Little Tami, two other 4-year-olds, in the Princess Rooney at six furlongs on dirt.
The Summit of Speed, with seven sprint stakes, was run at Calder Casino & Race Course in early July from 2000 through 2013.
Calder last June 16 cancelled the Summit that was scheduled for July 5, 2014 because of uncertainty over whether it would not be running after June 30, 2014 or still racing head-to-head with Gulfstream on weekends..
Last July 1, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering approved the agreement for Gulfstream to lease Calder’s racing operations through the end of 2020. Racing at Calder is now held only for eight weeks, in October and November, with Gulfstream using the name Gulfstream Park West.
Last July, Gulfstream ran a series of sprint stakes with lower purses that were substitutes for the Summit races,. Gulfstream then said it would reinstitute the Summit races starting in 2015.
This year’s Princess Rooney is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (Grade 1) on Oct.31 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. The Smile (Grade 2) at Gulfstream on July 5 is “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Oct. 31.
The Breeders’ Cup distaff sprint is seven furlongs. Vaccarezza thinks the longer sprint distance could help any of his trio–if they can get there.
Little Alexis ran in that race last Nov.1 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. She finished ninth, and soon after came down with a fever.
Earlier in 2014 she won the Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream, finished third in the Test (Grade 1) at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and fourth in the Cotillion (Grade 1) at Parx Racing in Philadelphia,
Little Alexis has raced twice this year, both at Gulfstream.
She finished second to the highly regarded R Free Roll in the Orange Blossom at six furlongs on April 4.
On May 3, Little Alexis finished fourth and Little Tami came in fifth in the Sunrise at 6 1/2 furlongs. It was the stakes debut for Little Tami.
Little Alexis came down with another fever several days after that race.
“She’s had some bad breaks with her health and some tough trips (in races),” Vaccarezza said. “I think she deserves another shot at the Breeders’ Cup.”
Little Alexis is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Mr. Greeley. Little Tami is a New York-bred daughter of Big Brown.
Both are owned by partnerships in Little Dreams Racing, for which Vaccarezza is managing partner.
Little Dreams is regarded by some observers as a prototype for helping racing fans start out as owners. An initial investment can be as small as $1,000 in most little Dreams horses, which Vaccarezza purchases at sales of 2-year-olds.
“We have a lot of options” this summer for the trio of 4-year-olds, Vaccarezza said.
One immediate plan is to let Little Michelle keep running in turf stakes, and thus not racing against Little Alexis or Little Tami.
Among the options are stakes races at tracks in northern states, Vaccarezza said.
Or he said he might send Little Michelle to California for turf sprints at Santa Anita or Del Mar/
“Gulfstream is giving us a lot of reasons to stay at home,” Vaccarezza added.
Gulfstream is entering its third season of summer racing. In addition to the Summit of Speed and the Florida Sire Stakes Series, which it also picked up from Calder, Gulfstream is running stakes with purses of $75,000
or $60,000 on most other Saturdays and many other Sundays.
“They are spreading the money around, and I think that is great,” Vaccarezza said. “It can make more sense to stay here for $60,000 or $75,000 rather than spend the time and money to travel north to run for $100,000.”