Phantom Ro, winning the Dr. Fager to remain unbeaten in two starts
Raroma Stable’s undefeated Phantom Ro, an impressive winner of his stakes debut earlier this month, returns to head a formidable quartet trained by Ralph Nicks in Saturday’s $ 200,000 Affirmed Division of the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The Affirmed and $ 200,000 Susan’s Girl for fillies, both at seven furlongs, comprise the middle legs of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association’s annual series for 2-year-olds sired by nominated stallions standing in Florida.
Highlighting a 13-race program which begins at noon, the Affirmed and Susan’s Girl follow the $ 100,000 Dr. Fager and $ 100,000 Desert Vixen held Aug. 2. The series concludes with the $ 400,000 In Reality and $ 400,000 My Dear Girl Sept. 30.
Phantom Ro has won both starts of his fledgling career in front-running fashion by five combined lengths, taking his debut July 8 going 4 ½ furlongs before stretching out to six furlongs for the Dr. Fager, where he drew off to win by 2 ¾ lengths over favored Dunk.
The Wildcat Heir colt has worked once since the Dr. Fager, going five furlongs in a bullet 59.87 seconds in company with Affirmed stablemate Soutache Aug. 23 at Gulfstream for Nicks.
“Phantom Ro is doing very well. So far his record is unblemished and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to,” Nicks said. “He’s showed some versatility. In his first race he got away bad, he stalked a little bit and was handy enough to be in the race around the turn and drew off nicely.
“Last time he ran heads up with the leaders in the stallion series and drew off late,” he added. “I don’t think he’s one-dimensional and obviously he has some quality about him based on what he’s done.”
Nicks will also send out GoldMark Farm homebred Soutache and Jacks or Better homebred Kingston Pike, third and fifth, respectively, in the Dr. Fager, along with Belven Stables’ maiden winner Capital S, making his stakes debut in his second start.
In the Dr. Fager, Soutache made a bid on the turn in the two path and held third by a head over Majestic Secret in a three-way photo finish, a half-length behind Dunk. Kingston Pike, racing for the first time since being gelded, was hustled at the start but lacked the early foot to gain position and was never a factor.
“Soutache is doing well. He had a good trip last time and even though he didn’t get it done he wasn’t beaten very far so a little bit of improvement from him would be nice,” Nicks said. “Kingston Pike kind of ran a dull effort after being gelded but he’s been showing a little more life than he was so we’ll give him another opportunity.”
Capital S is another son of Wildcat Heir that was a gutsy winner of his unveiling July 7, pressed on the lead all the way going five furlongs and prevailing by a head as the favorite in a field that included Affirmed rival Highborn. He shows five works since then, most recently a three-furlong blowout in 39.55 seconds Monday.
“He’s a big, nice, leggy colt that obviously deserves a chance in here,” Nicks said. “He was kind of in the fight the whole way and then held them off at the end so I would expect him to progress nicely. Hopefully everybody has a good trip, not just my horses, and the best horse gets there.”
Phantom Ro drew the rail under regular rider Edgard Zayas. Capital S and Soutache will break side-by-side from Posts 6 and 7, respectively, while Kingston Pike has outermost Post 9. All nine horses will carry 118 pounds.
A victory by Phantom Ro would put him in position to become the second straight horse to sweep the FSS series for colts and geldings, following Three Rules in 2016. The last time it happened in back-to-back years was 2008 (Big Drama) and 2009 (Jackson Bend).
“There’s been a lot of good horses to come out and develop through this program and went on to be some nice horses,” Nicks said. “Hopefully somebody will step up and be one of those horses, also. It’s sure a good series for the stallion-eligible horses and they get to run for some good money.”
Arindel homebred Dunk returns in the Affirmed with a change of equipment, as trainer Stanley Gold has opted to add blinkers to the Brethren colt following the Dr. Fager where he moved to within a head of the lead at the half-mile mark but was unable to keep up with the winner though he dug in down the stretch for second.
“He should have gone on about but he didn’t contest it. He fought on late, but it looked to me like he hung,” Gold said. “We had been talking about blinkers for a long, long time. When they’re running good, you don’t want to make a change.
“He ran good to finish second but I was disappointed. I hope the blinkers make the difference and he goes about his business,” he added. “We’d been talking about the blinkers for a while but we didn’t make the move. I don’t think it will have a negative effect and hopefully it will have a positive effect.”
Dunk is among the most experienced horses in the Affirmed, his fifth career start, including his maiden triumph July 15 at Gulfstream, where he drew off to win by 8 ¾ lengths going 5 ½ furlongs despite racing greenly through the stretch.
“He looked like he was lost out there, but he kept going,” Gold said. “He was looking around. He didn’t know where he was going. It was just that he was going faster than everyone else. In hindsight, I should have put the blinkers on.”
Emisael Jaramillo will ride Dunk from Post 3.
George & Debbi Klein and Giorgina Butler’s Majestic Secret will also be making his fifth start in the Affirmed. Sixth in his May 12 debut, he edged Dunk by a nose to finish second June 8 and returned 17 days later to graduate by three-quarters of a length going five furlongs. Miguel Vasquez has the call from Post 5.
Highborn, trained by Jose Pinchin for his wife, Tracy, is entered for his stakes debut off a 7 ¼-length maiden victory Aug. 12, going gate-to-wire to win in 1:24.10 at the Affirmed’s seven-furlong distance, with Luca Panici signed on to ride from Post 4. Pinchin also trains Three Rules, who followed last year’s FSS sweep by finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and winning the Carry Back (G3) July 1 in his most recent effort.
Completing the Affirmed field are Michael Dubb’s World of Trouble, in just his second start off a 14-length maiden claiming rout Aug. 10 at Gulfstream for trainer Kathleen O’Connell; and My Purple Haze Stables’ Cowboy Bob, who trainer Terry Pompay wheels back in 13 days following his 3 ¾-length front-running maiden triumph.
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