Gulfstream Park News & Notes - Fri 11/21

December 10, 2019

Karibu Gardens Taking Steps toward Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap Merilore Hopes to Carry on Family Tradition

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Melnyk Racing Stables’ Karibu Gardens had impressed trainer Josie Carroll right from the start, so the Canadian trainer wasn’t surprised when the 4-year-old son of Flower Alley blossomed into a graded-stakes performer. The Grade 2 winner has been shipped to Gulfstream Park West to run in Saturday’s $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap (G3).

“He always showed himself to be a nice horse,” said Carroll from her base at Woodbine Racetrack in the Toronto area. “It was just a matter of taking him through the steps.”

In July, Karibu Gardens took an alarming misstep that prompted jockey Luis Contreras to quickly pull him up and out of the second-level allowance race over Woodbine’s synthetic main track. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt was vanned off the track as a precaution and checked out fine after undergoing a battery of tests.

“We never did figure it out. Going into the turn, the rider felt him move his hind end and pulled him up. By the time the ambulance got to him, he was fine and walking around,” Carroll said. “When we got him back to the barn, we x-rayed, we scanned, we did everything. We found nothing. But somewhere along the line, he took a misstep and the rider looked after him. He felt him take a bad step and probably prevented an injury.”

Nineteen days later, Karibu Gardens returned to action to post a thoroughly dominating victory in a second-level allowance on Polytrack and take another step in his development into a graded stakes performer.

“We were confident running him back,” said Carroll, who became the first woman trainer to win the $1 million Queen’s Plate when she saddled Edenwold for a victory in Canada’s most prestigious race in 2006. “We knew there wasn’t anything wrong.”

Karibu Gardens came right back to post a three-quarter length victory in the Sky Classic (G2) on grass.

“I thought he just dominated in that race. He went over with a boat-load of confidence and just did what he needed to do,” Carroll said. “The next race he caught a very, very soft turf and never got comfortable in the race.”

Karibu Gardens hasn’t raced since finishing a dull eighth in the Northern Dancer (G1) on Sept. 14 over a turf course rated ‘good.’

The Melnyk homebred colt is scheduled to be ridden Saturday by Leandro Goncalves.

“Luis has commitments at Woodbine. Leandro rode a few winners for me last winter at Fair Grounds,” Carroll said.

The 38th running of the Tropical Turf Handicap attracted a competitive field of nine turf performers (as well as four main-track-only entrants), including Grade 1 winners Lochte and Unbridled Command. Karibu Gardens has been assigned to carry 118 pounds, three fewer than 121-pound highweight Reporting Star, a rival he defeated in the Sky Classic and who returned to finish third in the Northern Dancer and sixth in the Canadian International (G1).

“This is a pretty deep field for this time of year. It’s a pretty solid bunch of horses,” Carroll said.

Merilore Hopes to Carry on Family Tradition

Merilore, a half-sister to Nikki's Sandcastle, a multiple graded stakes winner for owner-breeder Richard Sherman and trainer David Kassen, will attempt to carry on the family tradition Saturday in the $100,000 My Charmer Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream Park West.

Though the My Charmer, scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the grass, will be the 26th career start for Merilore, it will be the 4-year-old filly’s first attempt in stakes company. Most recently, she won a 1 1/16 optional claiming allowance on the GPW turf by 3 ¼ lengths October 17, posting a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 85.

Merilore is by Don’t Get Mad out of the Sandpit mare Sandtina, who also produced Where’s the Baby, a winner of four of 30 races and $186,785 in purses. Nikki’s Sandcastle was 10-10-6 with a bankroll of $694,318 in 41 starts, including victories in the 2014 Hanshin Cup (G3) and 2013 Fayette (G2).

“Right now we’re kind of at a crossroads,” Kassen said. “There’s not anyplace else to run her. She’s at the point where if she found a three-other-than, it’s about the same as a stake, anyway. She’s a half-sister to Nikki’s Sandcastle, and that mare has been a pretty good producer. They seem to get better with age, so we’re hoping that she can step up.”

The recently retired Nikki’s Sandcastle also placed in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream Park, as well as the Fayette, Firecracker (G2) and Ben Ali (G3). Kassen said Merilore bears little physical resemblance to her siblings, but like her half-brothers runs well on grass, dirt and synthetics.

“She doesn’t look at all like them. They both had a lot of weight on them,” Kassen said. “She runs anywhere, it seems like. Nikki was kind of that way, too, and so was Where’s the Baby. Those were the three foals [Sandtina] had. They’re pretty versatile.”

In her career, Merilore shows four wins, seven seconds, two thirds and $129,787 in earnings from 25 starts, and has one second in two tries at the 1 1/8-mile distance. She ran five times during the 2013-14 Championship meet at Gulfstream Park, finishing second and then winning similar optional claiming allowance spots last December.

“She ran in a couple really tough two-other-thans down here last winter, and she got beat three or four lengths and didn’t have good trips,” Kassen said. “She was kind of down on the inside in tight and never had a lot of opportunity. She usually runs her race all the time. It’s just a matter of what kind of trip she has and if she’s good enough.”

Listed at 12-1 on the morning line, Merilore will carry jockey Jonathan Gonzales and 114 pounds from post two in the My Charmer, which attracted a field of 10 fillies and mares for the turf and both Oasis At Midnight and U.S.S. O’Brien for main track only.

“It would mean a lot to the breeder if she could get stakes placed. It should increase [Sandtina’s] value, no doubt,” Kassen said. “She’s kind of been a pleasant surprise. She’s kind of a little thing, but she’s grown up and she shows up all the time. Whether she can compete with these kind remains to be seen, but we’re going to give it a whirl and find out.”

As for the family, Kassen said there is another sibling who could make his debut in 2015. Kassen, 75, is a former jockey who rode from 1959-71 and won the 1969 Kentucky Oaks, and trained Grade 2 winner Avie’s Copy to a third-place finish in the 1987 Kentucky Derby.

“We’ve got a half-brother to Nikki’s Sandcastle, a yearling, being broke in Ocala,” he said. “He’s a chestnut, like Nikki, with some weight on him. He looks good. Hopefully, he’ll be a pretty nice horse.”

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