For all of Christophe Clement’s success in turf stakes at Gulfstream Park, where he has won a remarkable seven runnings of the Grade 3 Orchid along with a slew of other wins in notable grass races, the trainer has yet to win the Honey Fox.
That could change Saturday as the French-born conditioner sends out the likely post-time favorite, Celestine, in the G2 Honey Fox. The 5-year-old is among seven fillies and mares entered in the 32nd running of the one-mile turf race.
While Clement seeks his win in the Honey Fox, Celestine is already one step ahead of her conditioner in that regard.
After completing her 2016 campaign by winning two of five starts — including an emphatic victory in the G1 Just a Game at Belmont Park — Celestine went through the ring at Keeneland‘s November breeding stock sale and was acquired for $ 2.55 million. Bought by Clement’s longtime owners, Moyglare Stud Farm, the daughter of Scat Daddy left the barn of her former trainer, Bill Mott, and arrived in Clement’s care at Payson Park.
In her first start for her new connections, the mare won the local prep for the Honey Fox, the one-mile Sand Springs March 4. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, who has the return mount, Celestine used her speed to wire the Sand Springs and cruised home a two-length favorite as the odds-on favorite.
“She won the prep race and was very impressive,” Clement said. “She has done well since. I think she is a better horse then she was a month ago. She loves firm turf. She has plenty of speed — Gulfstream is always very speed favoring. We’re looking forward to seeing her run on Saturday.”
Celestine drew post 5.
Celestine’s most formidable foe appears to be the rapidly improving Linda, who runs for the same connections as top 3-year-old McCraken. Linda, who will make her 4-year-old debut in the Honey Fox, is trained by Ian Wilkes for Whitham Thoroughbreds. After winning a maiden race on the turf at Ellis Park last summer, Linda returned to win an allowance race at Kentucky Downs. She went on to finish second in Keeneland’s G3 Valley View and then first in Churchill Downs’ G2 Mrs. Revere. In the latter, she defeated the runner-up, G1 winner Harmonize, by 2 1/2 lengths.
The Honey Fox represents Linda’s first start against older fillies and mares in a stakes.
“I gave her just over a month off after her last race and brought her back to training,” Wilkes said. “She will run good. Is she ready to fire 100 percent? No. But she is ready to run.”
Julien Leparoux has the mount on Linda, who drew outside post 7.
The field also includes Lori’s Store, who finished third behind Celestine in the Sand Springs. The 7-year-old is a multiple stakes winner at Gulfstream Park.
Mississippi Delta, Inside Out and Josdesanimaux, the top three finishers respectively, in an allowance optional claimer here in late-February are also entered.
Dad’s Princess, winless in her last eight starts, completes the field.
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