Reporting Star makes Appleton deadline; Celestine leads all the way in Honey Fox

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

April 2nd, 2016

Reporting Star made a winning debut for new connections in Saturday’s $200,000 Appleton (G3) at Gulfstream Park, where the 8-1 chance benefited from a more straightforward trip than better fancied placegetters Divisidero and Force the Pass.

Transferred to Brendan Walsh following his acquisition by Merriebelle Stable, Reporting Star was parked in a steady third early. Long on Value appeared keen while leading through fractions of :23.81 and :47.67, and the prompting 5-2 favorite Force the Pass was also a bit fresh in his first start since September. Force the Pass had enough approaching the six-furlong split and overtook Long on Value in 1:10.97. To me, his Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez wasn’t so much sending him as making the split-second judgment to let him stride on.

Deep closer Divisidero, on the other hand, may have been taken out of his game by a conscious decision on the part of jockey Edgar Prado. Trainer Buff Bradley had indicated that he hoped Divisidero would be a little more tactical. That didn’t pan out as Divisidero was near the tail of the field in the opening stages, and Prado might have wanted to force the issue thereafter. Taking him wide around the first turn and into the backstretch, he had Divisidero creep into fourth. Although he was no only a couple of lengths back, he’d also expended energy twice over, through an early move compounded by ground loss.

Up front, Force the Pass was still traveling comfortably as he turned for home, Long on Value was spent, Divisidero endured another excessively wide passage, and Reporting Star, who had been patiently handled thus far, was now being nudged along by Luis Saez. Indeed, for a few strides, Reporting Star looked bound for third.

But Force the Pass didn’t pull clear, and Reporting Star kept responding to collar him in deep stretch. The lovable Divisidero was still trying, despite being put through his paces early. Unfortunately, Divisidero was drifting out somewhat down the lane, costing himself more forward progress.

Reporting Star crossed the wire a half-length to the good of Divisidero, who headed Force the Pass for runner-up honors. After negotiating the mile on good turf in 1:35.52, Reporting Star paid $19 to win. The top three were more than five lengths clear of Sky Captain in fourth. Long on Value faded to fifth, and All Included brought up the rear in the eight-horse field.

Reporting Star’s scorecard now stands at 28-7-7-8, $738,026. Although his first stakes win came in last summer’s Play the King (G2) for trainer Pat Parente at Woodbine, the dark bay has been compiling stakes credits since 2013. For breeder Gilbert Campbell and original trainer Kathleen O’Connell, he placed in such events as the Pegasus (G3), Palm Beach (G3), Jersey Derby and Calder Derby. In the silks of the Copper Water Thoroughbred Company, Reporting Star took minor awards in the 2013 Canadian Derby (G3) and British Columbia Derby (G3); 2014 Northern Dancer Turf (G1), Sky Classic (G2) and Tropical Turf (G3); and 2015 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf. The Circular Quay gelding added a second stakes win in the December 12 El Prado and in his latest, he finished second to Manchurian High in the Sunshine Millions Turf for the second straight year.

Four races later in the $300,000 Honey Fox (G2), Phaedrus Flights’ Celestine had a more leisurely time on the front end and accordingly couldn’t be caught.

Under a well-judged ride by Junior Alvarado, the Bill Mott filly dictated carved out splits of :24.44 and :48.42. Those were both slower than the corresponding sectionals in the Appleton, but perhaps the decisive point was her six-furlong time in 1:12.83. While the boys had quickened in their tough third quarter, Celestine was taking her sweet time to reach that point. The daughter of Scat Daddy thereby uncorked a much faster finish, throwing in back-to-bck :11 3/5 furlongs to roar home a 3 1/4-length winner. Celestine covered the grassy mile in 1:36.09 and returned $12.60 at 5-1.

Given the pace scenario, it’s no surprise that Mississippi Delta raced the entire circuit in second, just edging fellow stalkers Sandiva and Elusive Collection in a three-way photo. The closers never landed a blow, as Tammy the Torpedo and Lady Lara barely changed positions, and A Little Bit Sassy trailed throughout.

Celestine earned her first stakes victory over this course and distance in the Sanibel Island just about a year ago. Subsequently switched from Bill Kaplan to Mott, she promptly garnered the Wait a While and Wild Applause at Belmont. Celestine was an uncharacteristic 10th in the Mrs. Revere (G2) off a layoff, but came back with meritorious placings in both the Tropical Park Oaks (near-miss) and Sand Springs (third after chasing wicked pace) in her last pair. With this graded coup to her credit, she sports a mark of 11-5-2-1, $409,755.

Photos courtesy Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photography.