Free as a Bird Ready to Fly in Wednesday’s Captiva Island

December 11, 2015

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Riding a five-race winning streak last fall, Free as a Bird was loaded onto a plane for a journey to Southern California in a quest to win her sixth straight stakes in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.

And then, the engines were turned on.

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Elizabeth Valando’s homebred turf star reacted so negatively to the noise of the engines that trainer Ian Wilkes had no other choice than to remove her from the plane.

“She’s Free as a Bird,” he said, "but she wouldn’t fly.”

Wilkes’ much-anticipated Breeders’ Cup plans were dashed.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t have run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Wilkes said. “She was on the plane, but when they started the engines, she didn’t like it. We had to take her off.”

Thus, Free as a Bird will seek her sixth straight stakes victory in Wednesday’s $60,000 Captiva Island, a five-furlong dash over the Gulfstream Park turf course.

Rated as the 3-1 favorite in a full field of 12 fillies and mares (plus one main-track only entrant), the 6-year-old daughter of Hard Spun has shown a distinct fondness for the Gulfstream course, over which she has notched two wins and a photo-finish loss in three tries.

Her most recent local appearance came last March, when she captured a second-level optional claiming allowance at five furlongs. Two races later, she started a winning streak that included two wins at Belmont, two at Saratoga and one at Keeneland. She won from distances of five furlongs to seven furlongs. Free as a Bird is stakes-placed around two turns, but her trainer is strictly focusing on sprints.

“Five-eighths to seven-eighths is her strength,” Wilkes said. “She gets a little too strong going long. She doesn’t quite relax.”

Regular rider Joel Rosario has the return mount aboard Free as a Bird, who is scheduled to break from the No. 11 post, just inside St. George Stable’s Fascinante, who is rated second in the morning line at 9-2.

The Efren Loza Jr.-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro captured five of six starts last year, all turf sprints, including a front-running optional claiming victory at Gulfstream Park and a victory in the Blue Sparkler Stakes at Gulfstream Park West in her 2014 finale. The 5-year-old mare will be seeking to rebound from her very troubled 2015 debut in the Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream on Feb. 21.

A highly accomplished, competitive field has been assembled for the Capita Island, which attracted nine stakes-placed entrants, including five stakes winners.

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