A day in the sun

Under cerulean skies, the Ocala Sales complex hosted the Day of Champions' stakes card with tremendous success for Florida's first-ever races over a synthetic surface

"Ecstatic" is how winning owner Ahmed Zayat described the sensation immediately following the trophy presentation of the $150,000 Darley OBS Championship Stakes for sophomore colts and geldings. In a brilliantly mature performance, Halo Najib established the mile and one-sixteenth standard over Safetrack with a final time of one minute, 46 and two-fifths seconds under veteran jockey Kent Desormeaux. Boxed in early, the red-hued colt boldly swung to the grandstand side, passed a wall of horses, and cruised to his first stakes win in four attempts.

In his first appearance at OBS, Desormeaux likened the track's cushioned surface to Keeneland's polytrack. He thought the trip was perfect to teach Halo Najib a pattern for success to take them towards the first Saturday in May. A scheduled meeting between Zayat and trainer Dale Romans may well result in a map to Churchill Downs via the G2 Lane's End at Turfway Park; a Derby trail Hard Spun successfully ventured last year.

Zayat gives all the credit to trainer Mark Casse for finding his strapping colt at the OBS March Sale for him. Halo Najib was bred by John Scott in Florida and passed under the hammer as a yearling and again at two.

In the fillies' division of the Darley OBS Championship S, Calico Bay engaged pacesetting Indy's Alexandra off the final turn of the one-mile oval and sprinted away to the largest margin of victory on the day. Jockey Manoel Cruz suggested her eight-length triumph might have been greater had she not taken an interest in the crowd of jubilant fans who filled the small venue to capacity.

Trainer Bill Kaplan, who conditions Calico Bay for Herbert and Ione Elkins, was teeming with praise for his three-year-old talent. "She can run short or long, on grass or any surface. She has more class than any other filly I have ever trained." He concluded, "She is a phenomenal filly and a sweetheart and just a great, great filly."

Calico Bay entitled the Elkins to a season to Henny Hughes. She previously won the $400,000 My Dear Girl S at Calder, a race in which she first turned the tables on her Stallion Stakes Series nemesis Silk Ridge. At the eight and a half furlong Championship S distance, Calico Bay once again proved superior.

Bloodstock agent Nick de Meric beamed in the winner's enclosure following Straight Faced's late-rallying surge to victory in the Florida Thoroughbred Charities S. "When we see our graduates go on and do well, it makes us awfully proud," de Meric exulted.

The pinhook specialist sold Straight Faced at OBS March in 2007 after previously obtaining the bay colt from Florida breeders Adam and Suzette Parker. He substantiated the colt's spirited 57 and two-fifths second, five-panel sprint by adding,"Coming off a 13-month layoff is pretty impressive." Straight Faced, has now won five of seven starts.

"That's my baby", rejoiced Ed Poremba as he headed towards the winner's circle to catch a glimpse of the filly that he bred take glory from her brave run in the filly division of the Darley OBS Sprint S. Banga Ridge held off a late charge by Orinoquia to add black type to her record of four wins from nine starts. "Darley and I are doing well." declared Poremba who has a mare booked to Rockport Harbor and a foal by Kafwain.

Winning owner-trainer Jose Pinchin said, "I have a mare to breed. She is by Dixie Brass," realizing the bonus stallion season to Rockport Harbor. A native of Jamaica, Pinchin exclaimed "This is the greatest game in the world."

Well traveled Ben and the Twin has run over seven tracks in as many starts. His proficiency for synthetic surfaces is evident from his dazzling showing in the Darley OBS Sprint S, which he won by clear daylight. Trainer Cody Autrey spoke by cell phone,"I was anxious to try him over the track." Ben and the Twin previously took a win over first-level allowance colts at Keeneland. While quite pleased with his Kentucky bred colt, Autry has no immediate plans for his future. "I want to get him back to New Orleans and go from there.