BY BROCK SHERIDAN
Jose D’Angelo earned his first two victories in the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Sire Stakes as the trainer double welcomed a sweep of the first two legs of the lucrative series Saturday at Gulfstream Park. D’Angelo saddled Welcome Back to a narrow win in the $100,000 Desert Vixen before he trained Bentornato, which means “welcome back” in Italian, to a dominating victory in the $100,000 Dr. Fager division.
The six-furlong Florida Sires Stakes Desert Vixen is for 2-year-old fillies eligible for the series and by FTBOA registered stallions while the Dr. Fager is for 2-year-old colts and geldings under the same conditions.
“I’m very happy,” D’Angelo said. “Last year, it was my goal to pick up and train horses for the Florida Sire Stakes. We worked hard at the sales. Thank God, we won both races.”
Bentornato, who races for Leon King Stable Corp., is a two-time graduate of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company having sold for $45,000 to Pro Racing Stable out of the Stuart Morris consignment at the 2022 October Yearling Sale. He was then a $170,000 purchase by Champion Equine out of the Golden Rock Thoroughbreds consignment at this year’s OBS March Sale.
Bentornato and Emisael Jaramillo broke best of all from post nine in the Dr. Fager but Dickens, Raging Fury, Lasso and Jive made it a five-horse battle for the lead through two furlongs in :22.33.
As they headed into the turn, Bentornado was given a subtle cue from Jaramillo and he immediately took a half-length lead on Dickens as those two put three lengths on Jive in third. Dickens tried to stay close but Bentornato stretched that margin to four lengths at the top of the stretch and cruised home to win by a record seven-and-a-half lengths in 1:11.44. The winning margin eclipsed the seven-length victory by Three Rules in the 2016 Dr. Fager.
Dickens was second, a length-and-a-half ahead of third-place finisher Jive. Secret Lover, Raging Fury, Lasso, Gentle Breeze, Ninja Star and Northshore Drive completed the order of finish. Sound of the Beast was scratched.
Bentornato paid $2.80 to win as the 2-5 favorite. He was the shortest-priced winner of the Dr. Fager since Chance It won at 1-5 in 2019.
Bentornato is now three-for-three in his career with earnings of $158,830. He is by Bridlewood Farm stallion Valiant Minister out of the Florida-bred mare Her Special Way, by Put It Back.
Bred in Florida by Tanma Corp., the dark bay or brown colt won on debut by a neck going five furlongs over a sloppy track against state-bred special weight maidens at Gulfstream Park on July 1. He then turned heads for the first time with a four-and-a-half-length score in the $90,000 Proud Man over six furlongs at Gulfstream on Aug. 12.
“I was very confident in him today,” D’Angelo said. “In [the Proud Man] he wasn’t really ready because he had a fever before the race and missed a couple of very important workouts. For this race, I just worked him two times, easy for him, without company. Last race I had to push him to get ready.
“He ran his race today. I liked the post position today because he was on the outside and he could set his own pace and didn’t have to get rushed from the gate. When he goes long, he’s going to be better.”
D’Angelo said he plans to run Bentornato next in the $200,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes Affirmed at seven furlongs at Gulfstream on Oct. 21.
Welcome Back Surges to Narrow Victory in Desert Vixen
It took five-and-a-half furlongs for Welcome Back to find her best stride but the big filly was astonishingly fast in the last 100 yards in winning the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes Desert Vixen by a nose at Gulfstream Park Saturday.
With jockey Edwin Gonzalez aboard, Welcome Back started well and was just off the hip of the frontrunning Fields of Green in the early stages with Epona’s Hope and Florindia making it four across the track through a quarter-mile in :23.46.
Epona’s Hope shot to the lead around the far turn when Mist began her rally from last and Welcome Back dropped back to fourth turning for home. Epona’s Hope and Mist hooked up at the top of the stretch before the latter took a short lead inside the final furlong. Then Welcome Back launched a furious run in the final strides to win the photo finish in 1:14.28 on the fast track.
Mist was second by a half-length ahead of Epona’s Hope in third. Fields of Green and Florindia completed the order of finish in the field shortened to five with the scratch of Kitty’s Pretty, R Harper Rose and She Has Class.
Welcome Back paid $3.60 to win as the 4-5 favorite.
“My filly was a little green, between horses, she’s never run between horses,” Gonzalez said. “So today she was between horses and she’s so big so I have to check a little when [Epona’s Hope] comes down, [she] almost clipped heels. When I take her out she grabbed her spot and she came running.”
D’Angelo also noted a change of equipment gave Gonzalez more control over Welcome Back.
“We put her on a new bit,” he said. “She looked much better today because when Edwin wants to move her, she responds very well. I’m very happy with the race.
“I think the hard race for her is going to be this one because she’s perfect to go long. I was afraid this was going to be too short for her.”
The Desert Vixen victory was not the first time Welcome Back surprised D’Angelo and Alfonso Soued, who owns and bred the filly in the name of his Soldi Stables.
She came into the Desert Vixen out of a length-and-three-quarter victory against winners in a $75,000 optional claiming in her first career start on July 29
Soued said he and trainer Jose D’Angelo had no intention of starting Welcome Back against winners, but fate intervened.
“We had no plans to run [Welcome Back]. There wasn’t any strategy. God was behind us,” Soued said. “We had Escape Room, who was a winner, and we were going to take her to Kentucky. We had Escape Room entered for winners. But we needed one more horse to [fill] the race. So we entered Welcome Back. But we didn’t think she was really ready. But she ran that big race and won.
“That filly for me is like the summit of everything I’ve done. Since she was a baby, I’ve believed in her. This is a dream. A dream come true.”
Welcome Back is by Ocala Stud stallion Adios Charlie out of Lady Marchella, by Florida-bred Afleet Alex. She has now earned $91,300 and both D’Angelo and Soued indicated they plan to run her next in the $200,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes Susan’s Girl going seven furlongs on Oct. 21 at Gulfstream.