Repole Stable’s Never Surprised scored a popular gate-to-wire 6 ¼-length victory Sunday at Gulfstream Park, providing Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher with back-to-back victories in the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby.
Last year, Pletcher sent out Colonel Liam for a 3 ½-length victory in last year’s Tropical Park Derby prior to the son of Liam’s Map’s triumph in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream four weeks later.
The Tropical Park Derby, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds, co-headlined Sunday’s day-after-Christmas program with the Tropical Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-old fillies.
While touring the Gulfstream turf course in a solid 1:40.39, Never Surprised also provided jockey Luis Saez with his fifth victory on the 11-race program.
Bet down to 1-2 favoritism on the strength of his 9 ½-length triumph in the Nov. 26 Gio Ponti Stakes at Aqueduct, Never Surprised never gave Saez an anxious moment, breaking alertly to gain the lead into the first turn. After setting half-mile fractions of 23.22 and 46.66 seconds, the son of Constitution opened up on the turn into the homestretch and drew away for a comfortable victory.
“He’s a pretty nice horse. I rode him one time before and he was a little bit green, but today he was good. Todd has done an amazing job,” Saez said. “He broke from the gate really fast. I was excited about the way he ran today. I had a lot of horse. I didn’t have to overdo it. It was an easy race for him.”
Tropical Park Derby Replay
Among his four other winning rides, Saez rode Pletcher-trained first-time starter American Icon for an 8 ½-length front-running victory in Sunday’s Race 8, a seven-furlong maiden special weight race for 2-year-olds.
“It’s an amazing day. My family was here – that’s my happiness,” Saez said. “It was a great job by my agent (Kiaran McLaughlin) and everybody who is supporting me, giving me those type of horses to ride.”
In seven career starts, Never Surprised has four victories, as well as three second-place finishes in graded-stakes – Kitten’s Joy (G3) at Gulfstream, Saranac (G3) at Saratoga, and Hill Prince (G2) at Belmont.
Yes This Time finished second in the Tropical Park Derby, a nose ahead of Safe Conduct.
Bipartisanship Scored Upset in Tropical Park Oaks
Fortune Racing LLC’s Bipartisanship overcame traffic while also benefitting from a fast early pace Sunday at Gulfstream Park, rallying from far back to prevail in a most eventful running of the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks.
The Tropical Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for 3-year-old fillies, co-headlined Sunday’s day-after-Christmas program with the Tropical Park Derby, a 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-olds.
Bipartisanship, a British-bred daughter of Bated Breath who was sent to post at 19-1, scored by a half-length after jockey Paco Lopez found room between horses in the stretch to record her first stakes victory. The Graham Motion-trained filly was purchased privately following a third-place finish in a Group 3 race in Ireland in July.
Bipartisanship saved ground while racing well behind a lively pace set by multiple graded-stakes winner Lady Speightspeare, the 6-5 favorite ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, and pressed by Tobys Heart. The pacemakers set fractions of 23 and 46.99 seconds for the first half mile before continuing to do battle on the turn into the homestretch. Previously undefeated Lady Speightspeare, who captured the Natalma (G1) on turf and the Bessarabian (G2) on Tapeta at Woodbine, suddenly veered five paths to the outside entering the stretch to briefly lose the lead to longshot Mademoiselle Nova, but quickly recovered to take back the lead in mid-stretch.
Tropical Park Oaks Replay
The pressured pace and her greenness, however, took its toll on the heavy favorite in deep stretch, when Bipartisanship, who was blocked at the top of the stretch, surged between horses to get to the wire first. Stunning Finish also made a wide rally to finish second, a neck ahead of Lady Speightspeare.
“I was a little worried at the top of the stretch. It looked like [Lopez] had nowhere to go, but it all worked out. I think she was much the best. She didn’t have a very good trip,” Motion said.
Bipartisanship, who broke her maiden at Laurel in her second U.S. start, was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Winter Memories at Aqueduct.
“Last time, [Jevian Toledo] was mad at himself because they kind of slowed the race up and he left her with way too much to do,” Motion said. “When she came to me, she was already stakes-placed as a maiden. The day she ran in New York she just walked out of the gate, but she won very impressively at Laurel. She has done things very nicely. She’s nice filly to be around.”
Bipartisanship ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.16 on a firm turf course, providing another Tropical Park Oaks upset victory to her trainer, who saddled Ultra Brat for a 36-1 upset in 2016.
Motion has no immediate plans for Bipartisanship’s next start.
“I haven’t really thought beyond this race,” he said. “I was actually a little worried about running today because I thought it was very competitive.”