HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Making his first start since finishing second to Big Evs (Ire) in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on Nov. 3, AMO Racing USA’s Valiant Force was expected to roll to victory in Thursday’s eighth-race feature, an entry-level, 75,000 optional claiming on Gulfstream Park’s turf course.

However, Florida-bred Reef Runner upset those plans while facing six other 3-year-olds sprinting five furlongs on the turf.

Sent to post as the 3-5 favorite, Valiant Force encountered traffic on the backstretch, allowing 15-1 longshot Reef Runner to get the jump on him. Although the son of Malibu Moon recovered to launch a strong drive after swinging five wide into the stretch, his late run wasn’t enough to catch Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Reef Runner at the wire.

Reef Runner, winless in two starts on dirt before graduating in a five-furlong maiden $50,000 optional claiming on synthetic in his third start. The son of The Big Beast was making his turf debut from post six Wednesday following a runner-up finish on the all-weather course.

“I wasn’t really planning on running but I was talking with Paco, and he said, ‘the outside post position [six] might help you,” trainer David Fawkes said. “He said, ‘I’d love to run this horse.”

Florida-bred Esperon showed the way during a first quarter in :20.93, while Valiant Force saved ground in fourth along the backstretch, only to be steadied hard by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. entering the far turn. The Jorge Delgado-trained favorite lacked room on the rail as Reef Runner passed to his outside with an impressive run in mid-stretch. Valiant Force kicked in with a strong run in the stretch but finished three-quarters of a length behind Reef Runner.

“At the half-mile [pole] I tried to hold my ground and I couldn’t do it. The horse in front of me slowed down and I had to steady and wait, wait, wait,” Ortiz said. “After that I tried to just go around them and, once I took him out of there, he was running. That’s racing.”

Reef Runner ran five furlongs in :54.64 to prevail over Valiant Force, who finished a neck ahead of Esperon in third. Mackville, Banneker, King Julian and Hibernacle completed the order of finish.

Thursday’s Rainbow 6 Jackpot Pool Estimated at $250,000

The 20¢ Rainbow 6 jackpot pool is expected to climb to an estimated $250,000 Thursday at Gulfstream Park,

Wednesday’s Rainbow 6 sequence will span Races 4-9, featuring an upper level, $62,500 optional claiming for older horses at a mile on turf in race five and an entry level, $75,000 optional claiming for 3-year-old fillies at five furlongs on synthetic in the eighth race.

The popular multi-race wager went unsolved Wednesday for a third racing day following a jackpot hit for a $103,388 payoff Feb. 2.

Who’s Hot: Tyler Gaffalione doubled aboard Wicked Mercury ($5.80) in the sixth race and Tiz a Tale ($13) in the ninth race.

Return to Feb. 7 issue of Wire to Wire