HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ 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 Breedersâ€™ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
And then, the engines were turned on.
Elizabeth Valandoâ€™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.
â€œSheâ€™s Free as a Bird,â€ he said, "but she wouldnâ€™t fly.â€
Wilkesâ€™ much-anticipated Breedersâ€™ Cup plans were dashed.
â€œItâ€™s a shame we couldnâ€™t have run in the Breedersâ€™ Cup,â€ Wilkes said. â€œShe was on the plane, but when they started the engines, she didnâ€™t like it. We had to take her off.â€
Thus, Free as a Bird will seek her sixth straight stakes victory in Wednesdayâ€™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.
â€œFive-eighths to seven-eighths is her strength,â€ Wilkes said. â€œShe gets a little too strong going long. She doesnâ€™t quite relax.â€
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 Stableâ€™s Fascinante, who is rated second in the morning line at 9-2.
The Efren Loza Jr.-trained daughter of Medaglia dâ€™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.