Delta Bluesman Aims to Repeat in Smile Sprint
Veteran graded stakes winners Delta Bluesman and Awesome Banner, who each have a history of success at Gulfstream Park, return to the South Florida track July 1 intent to return to their winning ways in the $250,000 Smile Sprint Stakes (G3).
The six-furlong Smile Sprint for 3-year-olds and older is one of seven stakes, three graded, worth $1 million in purses on Saturday's 14-race Summit of Speed program.
Monster Racing Stables' Delta Bluesman and Jacks or Better Farm homebred Awesome Banner, both bred in Florida, will have more on the line than ending six-race winless streaks that date back to last fall. As a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event, the Smile Sprint offers the winner an all-fees-paid entry to the TwinSpires.com Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in November.
Delta Bluesman and Awesome Banner last met in the Sunshine Millions Sprint Jan. 21 at Gulfstream, where they finished second and third, respectively, separated by a neck. Delta Bluesman is the defending champion in the Smile Sprint, taking last year's edition by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:08.94.
He crossed the wire sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park and was placed fifth via disqualification following a rough trip that may have set him back at the beginning of this season.
"In the Breeders' Cup he got cut up really bad and when horses were coming next to him he was shying away from them. He would quit and then take off running again," said trainer Jorge Navarro. "We made some equipment changes and I'm working him in company now, and he's coming around really good. I think I have him training the way he was training last year when we went down south."
Delta Bluesman, a 7-year-old son of Wagon Limit, has yet to win in five starts this year, running third in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3), second in the Sunshine Millions, and sixth in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (G3) over the winter. He was third in his past two races, most recently in the off-the-turf, five-furlong Wolf Hill Stakes, contested in the slop May 13 at Navarro's summer base of Monmouth Park.
"If you look at the replay, there was a faster horse ahead of him and they beat us to the punch. He was laying a comfortable second and out of nowhere the winner goes by us. He had kind of quit and as soon as the winner went by he started running again," Navarro said. "After the last race I sat down with the owner to start deciding what we're going to do with him. Do we retire him?
"He's done so much for us. He was an ex-claimer and I'd hate to drop him for the claiming tag again. He must have heard those words because he's training like the good horse he was last year."
Delta Bluesman won or placed in 31 of his 51 lifetime starts and banked more than half of his $602,937 earnings at Gulfstream, with half of his 10 career wins coming at the Smile Sprint distance. Meet-leading rider Tyler Gaffalione picks up the mount for the first time, breaking from outside post 8 at 119 pounds.
"He loves Gulfstream," Navarro said. "I claimed this horse three years ago for $25,000. I know what I'm asking is a lot. But I know when he's right he can beat any horse out there."
Now 4 and trained by Ken Decker, Awesome Banner has run 11 of his 16 career races with six wins, two seconds, and a third at Gulfstream, where he has earned $539,110 of his $601,310 bankroll. Both of the son of Awesome of Course's graded wins, the 2016 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) and Swale Stakes (G2), have come over the local surface.
"Gulfstream is his racetrack. He hasn't been down there this winter and spring but that's his racetrack," Decker said. "He knows it, he likes it, and he does well down there."