HALLANDALE BEACH, FL — Jacks or Better Farm’s Awesome Banner will attempt to restore his reputation as a top-class sprinter when he heads a cast of seven in the $150,000 Carry Back Stakes (G3) as part of the Summit of Speed card at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. The 3-year-old colt is perfect in four starts at seven furlongs or shorter, including his most recent appearance, the $75,000 Big Cypress Stakes on June 4 at Gulfstream in his first try for trainer Mark Casse.
An impressive winner of his lone start at two for previous trainer Stanley Gold last June, Awesome Banner resurfaced on January 2 with an eye-catching performance in the $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream. The Awesome of Course colt dispatched his rivals by five lengths in the $200,000 Swale Stakes (G2) four weeks later and his connections then opted to tackle the Triple Crown trail. After setting the pace in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on February 27, Awesome Banner faded to finish a distant fifth behind Mohaymen. A foray to the Gulf Coast for the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 12 also proved fruitless when Awesome Banner failed to make the lead and wound up eighth.
The Jacks or Better Farm horses were transferred to leading trainer Mark Casse’s barn in April, and Casse opted for a patient approach with the swift Awesome Banner.
“He had two bad races and we didn’t know why, so we wanted to take our time and figure him out,” Casse said. “It was strange because we weren’t really sure what happened. They were both route races, so maybe it was the distance, but it seemed up like he just didn’t show up. It’s not like he ran hard to the eighth pole and stopped—he was never in the race at any point.”
After a brief freshening, the Florida-bred made a victorious return to action in the Big Cypress Stakes on June 4, when he took command on the turn and shook off a determined challenge from Wildcat Wish. He has posted two workouts at Gulfstream since that win, including a bullet half-mile drill in :47 seconds last Friday.
“He’d been training well, but honestly we didn’t know what to expect,” Casse admitted. “He ran well and I think he’s training even better than before (the Big Cypress). We’re hoping he shows that on Saturday.”
Awesome Banner drew the rail post for the Carry Back and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione.
While Awesome Banner is expected to dictate the pace of the Carry Back, Kentucky invader Rated R Superstar will likely deliver a late challenge. Owned by Radar Racing and trained by Ken McPeek, the son of Kodiak Kowboy showed promise last fall with a second in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes (G3) and a third to Brody’s Cause and Exaggerator in the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1). After finishing second in his first two starts at Oaklawn this year, Rated R Superstar finished third in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park on April 2. His connections opted to geld him after that performance, and the sophomore displayed a new dimension in his return on May 30, when he made a strong late move to secure victory in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance test in Louisville.
“He’s a pretty high-strung horse, sometimes difficult to deal with,” McPeek explained. “We also felt that his stallion rights weren’t going to be all that valuable. But obviously he has talent and he’s always been a really sound horse, so that’s why we gelded him. His pedigree says that he’s probably a sprinter and he’s always been a really talented horse, but he definitely really stepped up in his last race. I think he’s going to be a come-from-behind sprinter—the seven-eighths (distance) hits him right in the head. I think he could lay a little closer than he did last time, but you have to see how it unfolds.”
If Rated R Superstar runs to expectations in the Carry Back, McPeek has big plans for his charge.
“The timing and the distance for straight 3-year-olds really suits him,” McPeek added. “If he jumps through this hoop, then you could think he’s a King’s Bishop horse. I think there’s other options for straight threes, but I like this spot.”
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez will pilot Rated R Superstar, who will break from post six.
Puerto Rican sensation Discreet Angel is also in the Carry Back field. Owned by Guillermo Berrios and trained by Marcial Navarro, the Discreet Cat colt won four of six starts at Camarero Race Track before heading to the mainland. He had a troubled trip en route to a seventh-place finish in the $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico, but has been training smartly since that appearance. Discreet Angel breezed a half in :46.60 at Gulfstream last Saturday in preparation for the Carry Back. He is drawn on the outside in post seven and is slated to be ridden by Jesus Rios.
Also in the field are Li’l Meatball and Bullet Gone Astray, who finished third and fourth, respectively behind Awesome Banner in the Big Cypress.
Dream of Me and Jacopone complete the Carry Back contingent.