Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It may be just for one year, but the seven-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park is once again an important prep race leading to the 140th Kentucky Derby.
Of the seven 3-year-olds entered on Wednesday for Saturday's $200,000 stakes, the presence of two runners means the race is a must-see for those interested in potential starters for the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.
Finally making his 2014 debut in the Swale will be last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite and second-place finisher Havana. The gray colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, not only will be making his first start since dropping the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile to New Year's Day four months ago, but he scales back in distance from his last two starts.
"We just wanted to freshen him up a little bit after the Breeders' Cup and we got behind schedule a touch, but we've been able to make up some ground with a solid work pattern over the past month or so," Pletcher said. "His fitness level looks good. I think he's coming up to it well."
Returning to ride the Coolmore Racing-owned 3-year-old will be Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who last had the mount for the colt's winning debut effort at Saratoga over 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 23.
Havana won the one-mile Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 5 with Jose Ortiz in the saddle and then had Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens riding for the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.
Pletcher is using the Swale as a test for Havana in regards to the colt's endurance.
"We're trying to determine how far he wants to go," Pletcher said.
Another 3-year-old from the Coolmore group who has entered the Swale is No Nay Never. Trained by Wesley Ward, the colt is owned in a partnership by Coolmore's Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Ice Wine Stable.
No Nay Never is undefeated in his three lifetime starts, including a pair of stakes on the other side of the pond. The 3-year-old opened his career by winning a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at Keeneland back on April 26. His connections sent him to England to win the Norfolk Stakes at Ascot on June 20. Two months later, he made a return trip to the continent and snagged the Prix Morny at Deauville in France.
"He takes it all in stride. His races were spaced out from his first to his last. I thought if I kept pressing forward for the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile) or whatever other race, it would have gotten on his mind and maybe he'd get a little speed crazy," Ward said. "When I stopped with him last year, I had this race in mind."
Unlike Havana, who is dropping back in distance for the Swale, No Nay Never will be extending himself for the first time beyond six furlongs and racing on dirt for the first time as well.
"His physical make-up is striking. It's like the ultimate specimen of a horse," Ward said. "He has a beautiful head, a beautiful shoulder. He has a beautiful hip on him. He's pitch black, not a spot of bay on him. He's just gorgeous.
"It seems to me that Gulfstream is his preferred surface. That's a little scary with all he's accomplished. I'm really excited for this race. I usually don't get too excited for races. I'm really excited that Havana's going to be in there. Obviously, you'd like an easier race to come back in, but he is training so good right now. I think it will let him show his true class."
The Swale has been offering excellent sprinting competition in recent years, now the race can preview a possible Kentucky Derby hopeful.