Sir Ollie Levels Up in 2022 Sunshine Classic
Sir Ollie, having successfully bridged a nine-month gap between races and a change of barns, stretches out for the longest and toughest test of his young career in the $75,000 Sunshine Classic at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, January 15.
The 1 1/8-mile Classic serves as the co-headliner on an 11-race program along with the $75,000 Sunshine Sprint at six furlongs, each for Florida-bred 4-year-olds and up. Both races offer a $25,000 FSS bonus to the winner.
First race post time is noon.
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.
||Braccio Di Ferro
||Glory of Florida
Sir Ollie, a 4-year-old son of 2009 Florida Derby (G1) winner Quality Road, made the first three starts of his career for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He won a six-furlong maiden special weight in his New Year's Eve 2020 debut, coming from well back to get up by a neck.
In two starts at 3, Sir Ollie was beaten less than a length as the favorite in an entry-level allowance sprinting seven furlongs last January and was third in a similar spot going 6 ½ furlongs last March, also as the bettors' choice.
Sir Ollie joined trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. last summer and returned to the work tab in late August at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, where he worked steadily toward his return which came in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 8 at Gulfstream.
"That was the first time he ran for us," Joseph, the Championship Meet's leading trainer, said. "He was coming off a layoff and I didn't think he was quite 100 percent fit, but we needed to get him started. I thought he ran creditable. I think the added distance shouldn't hinder him, so we'll give him a chance here."
In his most recent start, Sir Ollie pressed pacesetting Tiger for six furlongs before taking a short lead into the stretch and sprinting clear to win by three lengths in 1:35.46.
"Going into the race I was a little concerned that we didn't have him as fit as the layoff as we could, but we needed to get him started," Joseph said. "To see him win like that, you would think that he should improve from that race to this race."
Junior Alvarado, aboard in each of Sir Ollie's first three starts, will climb back aboard from the rail in a field of seven.
"We got him three or four months before he ran. He had run some good races before he came in, and he's a very good-looking horse. He trained with purpose. Each time you work him he works well enough that you think he has some class to him. For him go out and win was nice to see," Joseph said. "You would think the distance, with the way he looks and the way he runs, that he should stretch out."
Donegal Racing's Shamrocket is entered to make his 5-year-old debut in the Classic. By 2014 Belmont (G1) winner Tonalist, the 5-year-old has raced exclusively on turf through 21 starts including a victory in the 1 ½-mile Point of Entry last October at Belmont Park. Shamrocket has placed in five other stakes including a second in the Sunshine Turf and a third in the Bowling Green (G3) last year.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano is named to ride from Post 3.
Proud Stable Inc.'s Big Venezuela ships in from Maryland for trainer Bruno Tessore. The 4-year-old Social Inclusion gelding has finished in the money in eight consecutive starts and 11 of his last 12, with three wins. Big Venezuela has faced open company in his past 13 races and has a wealth of two-turn experience, including one win, one second and one third in three lifetime tries at 1 1/8 miles.
Big Venezuela ran third as the favorite in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 31 at Laurel Park. Shamrocket and Glory of Florida are the only other horses in the field to have tried 1 1/8 miles; though neither has won, Shamrocket does have two seconds and two thirds.
"I think that's a plus for him," Tessore said. "I tried running this horse off the pace but he does the same thing. He kind of struggles the last sixteenth. When I ran him the last time at Laurel I thought it was going to be better for him, but he did the same.
"I think the experience of him going a mile and an eighth and not having any other horses running the distance that are in race will be better for him," he added. "I decided to bring him to Gulfstream because I think the mile and an eighth here and the way the track plays could be good for him to go all the way, wire to wire."
Big Venezuela made his first two career starts in South Florida before Tessore bought him privately and took him to Tampa Bay Downs, where he ran 10th in a maiden special weight before graduating in a 1 1/16-mile maiden claimer on the turf. He has raced exclusively at Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course since.
"When I first bought the horse, I thought he was a really nice horse. I trained him at Tampa and he disappointed me the first time he ran for me," Tessore said. "I dropped him to the claiming races. It took me a little bit to figure him out and now I think I've got him figured out."
Championship Meet leader Luis Saez gets the assignment from Post 2.
Glenn Fagan's Glory of Florida enters the Classic having run fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Claiming Crown Jewel Dec. 4 at Gulfstream. The 6-year-old is also by a Florida Derby winner, 2011's Dialed In, and owns two wins, five seconds and a fourth in the 2021 Big Drama from 12 starts since being claimed for $25,000 by trainer Laura Cazares Dec. 9, 2020.
Miguel Vasquez rides for the sixth straight race from outside Post 7.
Arindel homebred Hercules will be chasing his first victory since putting together three consecutive wins last winter and sprint at Gulfstream, all going one mile. The Brethren gelding has encountered trouble in each of his last two starts after running third in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claiming allowance in October in his Tapeta debut.
Hercules gets the services of Rafael Hernandez from Post 6.
Amaty Racing Stables, Inc.'s Nacho Papa will be making his first start since being claimed for $12,500 out of a fourth-place finish behind Sir Ollie in the Dec. 8 race at Gulfstream. Also by Brethren, the 6-year-old gelding has been popular at the claim box, changing hands eight times over his last nine starts. He has faced stakes company before but not since August 2019, and was third in the 2018 Hollywood Beach at Gulfstream.
Edwin Gonzalez has the mount from Post 4.
Bianco Stable's Braccio Di Ferro, 10th last out in the Claiming Crown Jewel, completes the field.
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