By Jim Freer
One of the biggest upsets so far at Gulfstream Park’s championship meet came on Sunday when 19-1 shot Squadron A won the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes (Grade 3).
And Squadron A’s victory (photo on home page) and the post-race comments of his trainer Dale Romans provide still another lesson of how “pace can make a race.”
Squadron A rallied from sixth and last place after a half mile and beat Candip by 2 ½ lengths in the six-furlong dirt stakes for four-year-olds and up.
Corey Lanerie rode Squadron A, who won in 1:10.23 on the track listed as fast. Squadron A was the only starter at odds higher than 8-1 in the six-horse field.
It was the first stakes win for Squadron A, a non-gelded seven-year-old son of Unbridled Song, and just his fourth win in 31 career starts.
Following the Mr. Prospector, Romans said he looked at the past performances when nominations were out and thought “it was all speed.” And he felt that could help Squadron A, who has a late-running style.
Romans had been planning to run Squadron A in an upcoming allowance, but decided to “take a shot” in the Mr. Prospector.
In retrospect, it is understandable why Squadron A was the highest price on the board in the Mr. Prospector.
Four of his rivals had won at least one stakes race in 2016.
Two of them, Jorge Navarro-trained Delta Bluesman and Shaft of Light, both have seek-the-lead styles. Delta Bluesman’s three 2016 wins included the Smile Sprint Handicap (Grade 2) at Gulfstream.
El Deal, a speedy stakes veteran who had won six of eleven career starts, also was in the field.
The other two stakes winners. Candip and Yourdreamsormine, had histories of racing off the pace but closer to it than Squadron A.
As Romans expected, a speed duel developed with El Deal and the 6-5 favorite Delta Bluesman leading the way.
Candip was fifth after a quarter-mile. But he soon began gaining ground, and took the lead coming out of the turn.
Meanwhile, the grey Squadron A was rallying along the rail. He passed Candip just inside the eighth pole and drew away.
“Looking at the form it looked like everybody in the race wanted to be in the front or right there,” Lanerie said. “There was a lot of speed in there. I was hoping to find a good spot and to close into it. I saw everybody warming up really good, so I had a good indication that they would be sending. It worked out perfect. Four of them tried to go to the lead and they fell back into my lap.”
Delta Bluesman finished third, 1 ¼ lengths, behind Candip. El Deal, at 5-1, was another 1 ¾ lengths back in fourth place.
The exotic prices included $148.60 for the $2 exacta.
2 -SQUADRON A 41.60 13.00 6.00
3 -CANDIP 4.80 2.60
6 -DELTA BLUESMAN 2.20
$2 EXACTA 2-3 PAID $148.60; $1 TRIFECTA 2-3-6 PAID $335.90; 10 CENT SUPERFECTA 2-3-6-1 PAID $125.50
*Romans said he expects that Squadron A’s next race “will be a stake somewhere.”
The next Gulfstream dirt sprint for four-year-olds and up is the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint (Grade 3) at 6 ½ furlongs on Feb. 25
The field likely will be larger and stronger than in the Mr. Pospector.
But Squadron A is looking like a late bloomer, who might again be a factor in some upcoming stakes.
Squadron A came into the Mr. Prospector off a win on Nov. 12 in a 6 ½ furlong optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
His best stakes finish prior to the Mr. Prospector was second place in the seven-furlong Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream last April 2.
In addition to four wins, he has seven second place finishes and five third place finishes. Most of his races since 2015 have been $62,500 optional claimers, with Romans not having him in for a tag.
Squadron A earned $61,380 in the Mr. Prospector, raising his career total to $270,543.
That pushed his career earnings above the $250,000 that Carolyn Vogel paid for him at the August 2011 Fasig Tipton sale.
Squadron A was bred in Kentucky by Patterson Bloodstock and Taylor Made Stallions.
Squadron A’s time was the second slowest in the 13 runnings of the Mr. Prospector since 2005 when Gulfstream put in its current track.
However, other times Sunday on the Gulfstream dirt track were moderately fast at best.
The result was Equibase giving Squadron A a speed figure of 119.
That was higher than any Equibase figure that any of the Mr. Prospector runners earned in 2016.
-Photo on home page by Leslie Martin. Gulfstream Park