Merlin Looking to Work His Magic in $65,000 Soldier’s Dancer
Prudent Song Giving Tapeta Another Try in $65,000 Ginger Punch
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Merlin, an eye-catching comeback winner seven weeks ago for owner-breeder Arindel, returns to Gulfstream Park hoping to conjure up his first stakes victory in the $65,000 Soldier’s Dancer Sunday, June 11.
The Soldier’s Dancer for 3-year-olds and up and $65,000 Ginger Punch for fillies and mares 3 and older, both restricted to Florida-breds and contested at a mile and 70 yards over the all-weather Tapeta surface, co-headline an 11-race program that begins at 12:50 p.m.
A 4-year-old son of Arindel’s foundation sire, Brethren, Merlin had gone unraced for 233 days before launching his comeback in an April 23 optional claiming allowance over the course and distance at Gulfstream. Facing fellow state-breds Merlin forged a short lead after a half-mile in 46.44 seconds and expanded it from there, hitting the wire 7 ¼ lengths in front in 1:39.83.
“He was doing so well to the point where on Florida Derby day they had the Appleton going a mile and I almost ran him in there. I looked at the field and it was just a loaded field,” Arindel racing manager Brian Cohen said. “Then I considered maybe going in the mile and a half race, the Pan American [G2]. It was a small field but thought I don’t want to do that, a mile and a half off the layoff. He’s just always been kind of bridesmaid, second or third, and I just kind of wanted him to win coming back so I pointed for the Florida-bred race.
“I knew he was going to run well based on the way he was training, but I didn’t expect him to just absolutely explode like that,” he added. “He’s doing great. He worked this past Saturday with [G3 winner] Clapton and it was just such a nice work I said, ‘Let’s just go here.’ I thought about going to an allowance or maybe somewhere else, but I wanted to give him time after that. He’s run well fresh and he’s just doing really well and I expect him to run well.”
Merlin went winless with five seconds in eight starts at 2, breaking his maiden in his ninth start and second over the Gulfstream Tapeta, where he thrived with two wins, one second and one third in seven tries. On the grass last spring he finished third by 1 ¾ lengths in the Sophomore Turf at Tampa Bay Downs and fourth by less than a length in the English Channel at Gulfstream.
Emisael Jaramillo, up for the comeback win, returns to ride from Post 6 in a field of eight.
Lining up to challenge will be Duke Perry Stable, Jeffrey Lambert, Robert Fetkin and Larry Buckendorf’s Lure Him In, trained by Bob Hess Jr. The 6-year-old Khozan gelding is winless in three starts this year and has not won since capturing the 1 1/8-mile Sunshine Turf in January 2022, a race moved from the grass to Gulfstream’s Tapeta.
“He definitely likes the Tapeta quite a bit,” Hess said. “He’s probably best on either Tapeta or turf, but I think the horse typically in the time I’ve had him … gets sharper in the summer. We’re starting to see signs of his hair coat going the right way and him starting to blossom. I think he’s going to have a really good summer.”
Lure Him In will be back on Tapeta after three grass starts to open 2023. He finished fourth by 1 ¾ lengths in his Sunshine Turf title defense, finished off the board in the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic March 26 at Tampa and rebounded to be third, beaten 2 ¼ lengths, in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance April 29 at Gulfstream.
“He actually ran a pretty good race last time. No criticism of the ride, but he had a little trouble so hopefully with a clean trip he can improve enough to be competitive,” Hess said. “I think he’ll be fine. I think he’s a better summer horse, anyway. We’re looking forward to running him.”
Luca Panici gets the call on Lure Him In from Post 7.
“Luca came and worked him and liked him quite a bit, so we’ll see if he can get the money this time,” Hess said. “He’s good to go. He’s 6 now, but he still thinks he’s a 2-year-old.”
Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s Me and Mr. C won in his last try over the Tapeta, a one-mile, 70-yard open allowance in early November. The 6-year-old Khozan gelding has made each of his three starts this year on grass, running second in the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic at Tampa Bay Downs and third in the Jan. 21 Sunshine Turf and May 14 Mr. Steele, both going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream.
Aramis Hernandez’s Souper Legacy has three wins and three seconds on the Tapeta from seven starts already in 2023, winning three in a row from mid-March to early May while changing hands twice via the claim. Now with trainer Javier Negrete, the 4-year-old Hard Spun gelding had his streak snapped when second to 11-time career winner Fly the W in a May 28 starter optional claimer at Gulfstream.
Maurice Miller-owned and trained Uno Tiger has thrived over the Gulfstream Tapeta with four wins, one second and one third in eight lifetime tries, all last year, including running third by a length to Hot Blooded in last year’s Soldier’s Dancer, a half-length ahead of Me and Mr. C, despite being squeezed at the start. The Kathleen O’Connell trainee is winless in four turf starts this year.
Cashier Check and Sociallongdistance, respectively third and fourth in the Turf Classic, and Indy Lyon complete the field.
Prudent Song Giving Tapeta Another Try in $65,000 Ginger Punch
Ralph Whitney’s consistent 5-year-old mare Prudent Song, stakes-placed in her last attempt against Florida-breds, chases a breakthrough stakes victory in the $65,00 Ginger Punch June 11 at Gulfstream Park, her 17th lifetime start.
Prudent Song will be racing over an all-weather surface for just the second time in the Ginger Punch, and first since finishing sixth in a December 2021 maiden special weight sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream for previous trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. and owner-breeder Patricia Generazio.
Now trained by Donald Hunt, Prudent Song exits a 1 1/16-mile starter April 29 at Tampa Bay Downs that was moved from the grass to the main track. After saving ground while setting the pace for a half-mile, she tired and finished a well-beaten third.
“The horse is doing fine,” Hunt said. “We ran her on the dirt last time. It came off the turf and we ran her and realized that was a big mistake. Then we set out for this race when it was on the grass. We’re going to try her on the [Tapeta] and see how she does there.”
Hunt has trained Prudent Song over the Ocala Training Center’s all-weather Safetrack surface in preparation for the Ginger Punch as well as giving her a three-furlong breeze in 38.40 seconds June 3 at his farm in Williston, Fla.
“We’ve worked her in Ocala on the track at OBS and she worked great, but that’s a completely different track,” Hunt said. “The one at Gulfstream is not quite as fast. We’ll see how she does. If she does good there we’ll just continue running there; if not, we’ll ship her up north and let her run on the grass.”
Prudent Song has run first or second in 12 of 17 starts with four wins. Hunt claimed the daughter of Wicked Tune for $16,000 out of a four-length win going one mile on the Tampa Bay Downs turf Feb. 8.
“You look at her form and it just kind of made sense. There was not any one thing that stood out,” Hunt said. “When we looked at her, she’s a good-looking horse. There was no big sign of brilliance on our part, it was just one of those claims that did work out.”
Making just her second start at Gulfstream, Prudent Song will be ridden by Angel Morales from Post 2 in a field of seven.
“We train her at the farm up here, and she likes the farm life. She does good up here. She trains on the track, she does a lot of swimming and she thrives. She’s nice and sound and she’s a nice horse at her level,” Hunt said. “She might get lucky and if we do, that’s great. If not, we’ll go somewhere else with her.”
Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. entered the pair of Battle Cry and 126-pound topweight Beth’s Dream. Skull Stable’s Battle Cry had five wins, two seconds and two thirds from nine starts in 2022, all on dirt, and is 1-for-3 this year with a 5 ½-length starter optional claiming victory April 23, also over Gulfstream’s main track. She has tried the Tapeta once, winning a five-furlong claimer in October 2021.
Virginia and James Gamble’s 5-year-old mare Beth’s Dream has raced exclusively on dirt in her career, winning five of 10 starts with one second and one third. She heads into the Ginger Punch on a two-race win streak, having earned her first stakes victory in the one-mile Heavenly Cause April 15 at Laurel Park after running third in the Jan. 14 Wayward Lass at Tampa and 2022 Lady’s Secret, beaten a head, last summer at Monmouth Park.
Stefania Farms’ 4-year-old filly Tamarindo went 1-for-4 over Gulfstream’s Tapeta last summer and fall, breaking her maiden in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer in mid-September. She exits four straight grass starts including the 1 ½-mile Orchid (G3) last out April 1, where she finished eighth.
Lucille Bishop’s Treasure Tails launched her 7-year-old season running second in a state-bred allowance going a mile and 70 yards over Gulfstream’s Tapeta May 25, her first start in nearly 10 months and first try on the all-weather. Previously she had run in successive graded turf stakes, finishing fourth in the Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) at Delaware Park and sixth in the Glens Falls (G2) at Saratoga.
Seven-time career winner Chick’s Shadow and Prettykeen are also entered.